Category Archives: Broward County Courts

History In The Making: With New Court Tower, Much Of History Is Yet To Come

The Changing Face Of The Courthouse, Inside And Out.

Al Capone mugshot from the Miami Police Department
Broward County’s first circuit judge would later represent Al Capone in Miami.

The first circuit court judge appointed in Broward County was staunchly opposed by the Ku Klux Klan, but in 1927, a year before the opening of the county’s first dedicated courthouse, the KKK still had tremendous political and social influence in Florida. Circuit Judge Vincent Giblin was a Roman Catholic, and that was a no-no for the klan. A little more than two years later, Judge Giblin would lose a reelection campaign. Just four months after that, Mr. Giblin began a famous representation of the notorious mobster, Al Capone, who had a home in neighboring Dade County. Mr. Giblin’s history is detailed in an essay, written by William G. Crawford, and it can be found on the Broward County Bar website.

The history of the Broward County Courthouse certainly has been colorful and controversial. As the county has grown, as its population has changed, the courthouse has been a participant and a witness to the political and social evolution that has been a part of the Broward County story since its founding in 1915. One of the more memorable events happened in 2000, when the court and its jurists were thrust into the national spotlight in the disputed presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. The case eventually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Aerial shot of Broward County Courthouse in 1962
1961: The existing courthouse is opened. Photo:

The current court tower, in its present form, opened in 1961, following completion of the west wing. 51 years later, construction work on the new courthouse tower would begin.

Two years after the existing court building opened and consolidated all courts and court operations, Broward County became its own judicial circuit, the 17th Judicial Circuit. That was in 1963. Broward had finally become its own entity in law.

More Than 50 Years Of Remarkable Judicial History

In the intervening half century, many notable cases have been heard by judges and juries in the central courthouse of the 17th Judicial Circuit, and many of those cases have been handled by the partners of Bogenschutz, Dutko & Kroll, P.A.

Michael Dutko recalled his own early days in Broward County when, as a Fort Lauderdale police officer and, later, organized crime detective, he was frequently in and out of the old courthouse as a witness for the prosecution. Many of the early cases, even before he went into private law practice, were settled at an old lunch counter called the 101 Café.

“I came to town in ’76. I started working as a policeman. In ’78 I was transferred to the organized crime division, and our office, at that time, was down the street next to the Downtowner Restaurant,” Mr. Dutko recalled. “So, I spent my days at that office, at the courthouse, if I wasn’t out working on the street. The jail wasn’t built back then. The jail behind the courthouse wasn’t there; that was a flat parking garage.

SE 1st Avenue at SE 6th Street in Fort Lauderdale
The present day: SE 1st Avenue at SE 6th Street in Fort Lauderdale. At one time, this intersection was host to the 101 Café, where many cases could be resolved over lunch.

“But at lunchtime, the 101 Café, which was on that corner of First Avenue and Sixth Street, was one of the places where prosecutors, public defenders, judges often ate lunch; and it was pretty much … it was understood that if you needed to work a case out, if you needed to talk to a prosecutor or if a prosecutor needed to talk to a public defender, you could often find them in the afternoon at the 101 Café. A lot of cases got resolved at that – it was an old lunch counter – and a lot of cases got resolved at that old lunch counter back in those days.”

That lunch counter was demolished to make way for a new parking garage, which opened in 1987. That garage was, itself, razed, only 25 years later. Today, many know of the corner of 1st Avenue and SE 6th Street as the site of the new court tower and, across the street, the Turkish-American Restaurant, which also serves as a bit of a lunch-hour hangout for attorneys and judges.

Dramatis Personae Of Jurisprudence

Some of the biggest cases that have been handled by Bogenschutz, Dutko & Kroll, P.A. have also been stories of great media interest, many from very recent years. However, getting high-profile cases has never been a part of the mission of the law firm. With so much of their own history at the Broward County Courthouse, you might expect the attorneys for Bogenschutz, Dutko & Kroll, P.A. to be less reticent about their successes, but keeping a low profile is part of the culture of the firm.

Mr. Dutko pointed out the firm does everything possible to keep clients out of the spotlight. He conceded that avoiding the press is sometimes impossible, but seeking media coverage is never an option. “The first thing we want to do is get our clients out of the media,” he said.

Sun-Sentinel article of J. David Bogenschutz
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s 2010 biographical article of J. David Bogenschutz. Click the thumbnail to view the article.

Even so, as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, itself, observed in a 2010 biographical article about J. David Bogenschutz, Broward County’s most visible cases just seem to end up at Bogenschutz, Dutko & Kroll, P.A.. In the article, another local attorney laments that the firm seems to get “first crack at all the good cases in Broward.”

Media coverage, albeit unintentional, does accord the firm a more visible public record. One such case involved a defendant in the so-called Weston Rock Pit Murder, which happened in 1993. The case involved a group of eight teenagers who lured 20-year old Bobby Kent to a remote area in order to kill him. The case was so infamous at the time, the Miami Herald’s Sunday magazine insert, Tropic, featured a 12-page article about the case.

Miami Herald Tropic from October 1993
An October 1993 cover of The Miami Herald’s Tropic, which featured the high-profile story of eight suburban teenagers and one murder victim, 20 year old Bobby Kent. Click the thumbnail to read the original article.

Mr. Dutko, himself, was the attorney for Alice Willis, who went on trial for murder in 1995. In fact, Ms. Willis’ trial was the very first trial to begin at the newly-constructed North Wing of the existing courthouse, a portion of the current facility that will survive the current rebuilding and renovations. The opening of that wing gave attorneys more room, and it relegated the old portion of the courthouse to handling civil and county court cases.

As for trial of Ms. Willis, it may have been the first to start in the new North Wing, but it was not the first case to be settled there. “We were the first ones to start trial. It was a seven week trial. We weren’t the first ones to finish a trial,” Dutko said. Oddly enough, on the very day Mr. Dutko shared his story for this article, Ms. Willis’ long legal story had just come to an end.

Michael Dutko and Alice Willis in 1995
Emotional verdict: At top, Michael Dutko embraces Alice Willis in 1995 following a jury verdict. Ms. Willis was on trial for 1st degree murder but was convicted of a lesser charge. Today she is a stay at home mother who cares for her  children.

“Alice Willis was convicted of the lesser included offense of murder in the second degree. She received a sentence which was later modified as a result of an appellate decision, and a judge modified her sentence,” Mr. Dutko explained. “And interestingly enough, this morning (April 2, 2014) her probation was finally terminated, and it’s all behind her. It’s been 21 years.”

The world is certainly very different than it was 21 years ago, and dramatically changed from those days in the mid-1970’s, when Mr. Dutko first arrived in South Florida.

The history that has happened since then fills volumes, but the volume of cases filling the court docket has been overwhelming. It is among the plethora of the reasons the new court tower is needed. When asked to recall how the courts have changed since 1976, Mr. Dutko answered in two parts. “One is Broward is just much bigger, a bigger place. There are a lot more people There’s a lot more volume of, higher volume of cases that are filed in the system every day, every week, every year now.

“The other thing is the north wing to the courthouse didn’t exist then,” Mr. Dutko continued. “So back in the days I’m talking about, the late ’70’s the early ’80’s … everything was in what we refer to as the old section of the courthouse. That means all of the felony criminal cases were there on the eighth floor, ninth floor, tenth floor. All civil cases, all county court cases, everything was resolved in that courthouse.”

New Broward Courthouse and the old courthouse
The exterior is nearly completed on the new Broward County Courthouse, while the old courthouse remains in use until its replacement opens. The new structure is about 715,000 square feet, compared with 398,000 square feet in the old tower.

Mr. Dutko said he had not given much thought to the new courthouse when construction first began, but he did make a couple of observations about the old facility he hopes will be resolved by the new one. “What’s important to me is that citizens … people that are in that building every day are citizens that are called in for jury duty or people that have cases pending and have to come to that building. It’s important to me that they be able to get in as effortlessly as possible,” he said. Mr. Dutko noted that getting into the existing facility is often times a trial, unto itself.

He also noted the current tower, at least the old portion of it, is suffering from severe maintenance issues that have caused many to speculate about the insalubrious condition of the structure. “The greatest shortcoming is, well, first of all, the mold problem we’re all familiar with, that it seems to be a sick building,” Mr. Dutko said. “I hope that everybody is going to be healthier, as the result of getting into the new building.”

Social And Judicial Changes Continue As Broward’s First Century Drawing To A Close

Stacy Ross and Giuseppina Mirada
Circuit Court Judge Stacy Ross and County Court Judge Giuseppina Miranda during their official robing ceremony January 10, 2014.

As for the social changes he has witnessed, Mr. Dutko said he hopes the judiciary continues to evolve to reflect the people it serves, but not at the expense of the law. “The most important thing is quality, the quality of the person, the quality of one’s experience, their intelligence and all of those things,” he said. “I think a close second, then, is there needs to be some focus on the diversity, not to the exclusion of quality, but there are many qualified applicants out there that need to be encouraged to seek judicial appointments and judicial positions.”

Mr. Dutko noted the Florida Bar had recently begun a diversity program to attract more qualified people of various ethnic backgrounds. “I know there’s a recent commission that’s been created by the Florida Bar to try to promote greater diversity, as to those seeking judicial appointments, here locally, to the county court and the circuit court,” he stated. “There are a lot of very qualified … prospective minority applicants that don’t seem to apply. I don’t really know what the reason for that is, and that’s what this commission has been designed to do.”

When the first installment of this series began, it was written that the new court tower is a metaphor for the myriad social and judicial changes that have happened in Broward County. Given the nature of the objections to the county’s first circuit court judge, perhaps there is no better ending to this trilogy of essays than to note there are no such objections today. In fact, the climate could be said to be a polar opposite, and the group that objected to Mr. Giblin’s appointment in 1927 is, itself, viewed objectionably today.

In so many forms, it would seem the 21st Century is well underway, and Broward County is ready for its second.

History In The Making: Building Anew, In Pictures

Part II Of A Series About Broward County’s New Courthouse

The Opening Statement

pillars of the new Broward Court House
The entrance of the new courthouse, as it appeared during construction on January 27, 2014.

Broward County’s new courthouse, which is under construction in Fort Lauderdale, has reached its final height, with the topping out ceremony having been held in February. The new court tower is 11 floors taller than the existing court building, and it will have soaring columns through which all persons will pass into the lobby when it opens in the summer of 2015.  Perhaps it is appropriate to say Broward County is gaining its pillars of justice, as this will be the first incarnation of the three main courthouses that is so embellished. It is something to consider as we present Part II of our three-part series about the Broward County courts.

Choosing Among 1000’s Of Pictures

The process of sorting through these photographs was difficult. Of the thousands of pictures in our photo library, 260 were finally chosen as “finalists” for inclusion in this series of slideshows, not including those from the official county record. The pictures span a period of nearly four years. Of those, only a fraction were actually chosen to represent the various stages of construction, up to the beginning of March 2014.

Of course, the new courthouse will not open until 2015. When that happens, the existing low-rise tower will be demolished to make way for a new 500-vehicle parking garage. At that time, both of Broward County’s old main courthouses will be relegated to pure history and the photographic records that are maintained of them.

Getting Started: The Existing Court Building And The Old Court Square

The pictures in the first slideshow present the Broward County Judicial Complex as it appeared in 2010, while a task force was still considering whether to renovate and upgrade the existing facility or start with a new structure.

  • Courthouse EntranceThe entrance to the existing Broward County Courthouse, on SE 6th Street, facing east and north.
  • Courthouse EntranceTurning the other direction, the entrance of the existing Broward County Courthouse, on SE 6th Street, facing west and north.
  • The Courthouse CourtyardThe courtyard of the courthouse, which included the bell tower, which can just be seen at the left of the picture.
  • The Bell TowerThe bell tower, which was demolished along with the courtyard to make way for the new courthouse tower.
  • A close shot of the "liberty bell" in the bell tower, with the 110 Tower as a backdrop. The existing courthouse can be seen peeking into the left side of the picture.
  • The Two TowersA picture of the existing Broward County Courthouse and the 110 Tower, directly across the street. The courthouse is dwarfed by the companion building, which is not the case with the new tower.
Courthouse Entrance1 Courthouse Entrance2 The Courthouse Courtyard3 The Bell Tower4 5 The Two Towers6

Two and a half years later, in the autumn of 2012, the courtyard and the bell tower were demolished to make way for the foundation of the new court tower, as seen in these photos from the official Broward County website1.

Broward Courthouse bell tower demolition

From a distance, in the autumn of 2012, there is hardly an indication anything is happening near the courthouse, but the skyline of Fort Lauderdale was on the verge of changing. The photograph below was taken the morning of October 10, 2012 from a hotel on Fort Lauderdale beach.

Fort Lauderdale from Beach Place

Old V. New: The Case Of The New Court Tower

People visiting the courthouse in March 2013 witnessed construction underway in earnest, with the areas around the courthouse marked by barricades, fencing and, of course, the first pylons of the new tower being erected.

  • Fort Lauderdale SkylineThe skyline of the city includes cranes of two separate highrise projects, one of which is the new courthouse.
  • The BarricadesRoadway barricades are erected in front of the courthouse to squeeze traffic from the far-right lane on SE 6th Avenue.
  • Directing TrafficThe barricades, as seen from inside the barricade line, show where traffic has been temporarily blocked for construction.
  • No Trespassing!The new courthouse construction site is cordoned off and fenced, with warnings that trespassers will be charged with a felony.
  • The Construction Trailers and SiteThe staging area, offices and safety training trailers are visible in this image, looking west toward the new construction site.
  • The First Floors ErectedThe ground level and supports for the second floor are erected as the new tower begins to rise.
Fort Lauderdale Skyline1 The Barricades2 Directing Traffic3 No Trespassing!4 The Construction Trailers and Site5 The First Floors Erected6

The skyline of Fort Lauderdale was about to change immensely, with multiple construction projects underway or about to begin. The courthouse tower project is only visible from the central beach area because of the crane lurking between the the New River Plaza condominium and the pale green of the Riverside Hotel, as seen in this photograph from April 27, 2013.

courthouse construction as seen from the central beaches of Fort Lauderdale

By August of 2013, nine floors of the new courthouse tower were completed, and the tower was as tall as nearby low-rise buildings, including the old court building, itself.

  • Nine Up, 12 To GoLess than six months after the first floors were started, the framework of the first nine floors is complete, with construction started on the 10th.
  • Jailhouse Rivalry?The Broward County Main Jail is rivaled in height by the emerging courthouse tower.
  • Nine Concealing The 110Only the top of the 110 Tower is visible from the base of the Andrews Avenue bridge over the New River.
  • Emerging JusticeThe new courthouse tower, as seen from the southwest corner of Andrews Avenue and 6th Street, on August 16, 2013.
  • Walk The Plank!Perhaps this is not as forboding as a shipboard plank, but a fall would be equally deadly. Observe the crane in the left of the picture.
  • Air-conditioned CraneClimate control is available at 100 feet for the construction worker in this control box.
  • New Parking GarageThe first phase of the new courthouse parking garage on Andrews Avenue stares down the glass façade of the office building in which our law offices are located.
  • Old v NewThe entrance and tower of the new courthouse are beginning to overwhelm the size and height of the old court building.
  • Hanging Out To DryA construction worker's undershirt is seen dangling on a barrier wire of one of the new floors of the emerging court building.
  • Construction NecessitiesEquipment used to prepare materials that are used on the construction of the new court tower.
  • Waiting For A RideThe ground-level platform of the construction elevator that lifts workers to the various floors of the new tower.
  • Going UpThe new tower and the construction elevator that carries workers to the upper floors.
  • This Way, PleaseSigns direct pedestrians to the crosswalk for the old court tower.
  • The New Judicial ComplexAnother angle showing the old courthouse, in the foreground, and the new court tower, which is already as high as the aged building.
Nine Up, 12 To Go1 Jailhouse Rivalry?2 Nine Concealing The 1103 Emerging Justice4 Walk The Plank!5 Air-conditioned Crane6 New Parking Garage7 Old v New8 Hanging Out To Dry9 Construction Necessities10 Waiting For A Ride11 Going Up12 This Way, Please13 The New Judicial Complex14

Only one month later, three more levels of the rising court tower were completed, and the building was already more than half its planned height of 21 floors. The following pictures are from September 19, 2013.

  • Taller Than Its PredecessorThe new courthouse tower is now taller than the old, but it is only slightly more than halfway completed, in terms of its final height.
  • Room With A ViewA sample of one of the new courthouse windows, which will be attached to the entrance section of the new tower, sits in the construction staging area.
  • New River ViewThe new court tower now peeks over the top of the Broward County main jail, as seen in this image from SE 3rd Avenue at the New River.
  • Emerging FrameworkZooming in, the new courthouse tower becomes visible in greater detail behind the Broward County main jail.
  • Watch Your StepA construction worker carefully navigates the cluttered site of the courthouse tower project.
  • Guiding The BucketA worker on the ground guides his colleagues in a high-reach bucket as the new exterior panels are added to the courthouse along SE 1st Avenue.
Taller Than Its Predecessor1 Room With A View2 New River View3 Emerging Framework4 Watch Your Step5 Guiding The Bucket6

One year after taking a snapshot of the downtown skyline from the beach, the new court tower is seen here from an adjacent hotel. The tower is not plainly visible in the downtown landscape. This image was taken October 23, 2013, and the old courthouse can be seen just to the front of the new building. It is already completely dwarfed by its replacement.

emerging Broward County courthouse

Only two weeks before Thanksgiving 2013, the new courthouse tower has become an imposing sight, assuming a more dominating role of the judicial complex, even though it will be another 20 months before its planned opening.

  • Towering Over The JailThe new courthouse now prominently rises over the 13-story Broward County main jail in this image taken November 4, 2013.
  • Elevator Up!Workers are visible in the construction elevator that rises past the new exterior walls enclosing the superstructure.
  • Enclosing The FrameworkThe entrance and lobby area will soon be attached to the new colonnade, and the lower floors are nearly fully enclosed.
  • No Shadows, No PuppetsA construction worker emotes while his counterparts observe his gestures in an animated conversation.
  • High Wire ActPower and communications lines compose part of the view of the top of the growing courthouse tower.
  • Sky Crane And The Two TowersThe view of a construction crane flying between the new courthouse and the 110 Tower makes for a dramatic sight.
  • Not Exactly BattlementsFrom left to right: The Riverhouse condominium; the new Broward County courthouse; the 110 Tower. This view is from atop the Publix parking garage on Andrews Avenue.
Towering Over The Jail1 Elevator Up!2 Enclosing The Framework3 No Shadows, No Puppets4 High Wire Act5 Sky Crane And The Two Towers6 Not Exactly Battlements7

Night Vision And Topping Off In 2014

By the start of 2014, the new court tower was within a few floors of reaching its final height. Perhaps the most dramatic images taken, yet, of the new tower, were these sunset and night shots of the new court tower, taken in late January and mid February, respectively.

  • Sunset SkylineThe Fort Lauderdale skyline is dramatically silhouetted against the backdrop of a sunset on January 22, 2014. The new court tower's two cranes can be seen left of center.
  • Evening ConstructionA zoomed shot of the downtown skyline reveals, in the left side of the picture, the night lighting of the courthouse construction project.
  • Lux ParadisoA night view of the new courthouse tower, as seen from directly in front of the Cinema Paradiso, just one block away on SE 6th Street.
  • Not Quite VegasIt may not be The Strip, but the night construction lights distinguish the new courthouse tower from its neighbors.
  • The Difference Between Night and LightThe current Broward County courthouse is dark, while its replacement is brightly lit for evening construction work.
  • Neon v Flourescent IThe 110 Tower, capped with iridescent neon, juxtaposed with the white flourescent glow of the new Broward County courthouse.
  • Neon v Flourescent IIA portrait image of the night illumination of the 110 Tower and its new neighbor.
Sunset Skyline1 Evening Construction2 Lux Paradiso3 Not Quite Vegas4 The Difference Between Night and Light5 Neon v Flourescent I6 Neon v Flourescent II7

Near the end of February 2014, nearly a year after the first floors emerged from the dirt of the new courthouse construction site, the “topping out” ceremony was held. The event, marked by placing an evergreen on the top floor of a new building, symbolized the final construction of the top floor of occupied portion of the new courthouse. The 21st floor, which was constructed in the following weeks, will not be open to the public or court staff. Instead, it will house mechanical and electrical equipment.

The following and final series of pictures shows the “tree topper”, which is a palm tree in Florida, followed by a series of pictures taken at the start of March 2014, as more of the exterior walls and windows were added.

  • Tree TopperFebruary 14, 2014: The Topping Out of the last floor that will be used by humans. Machines will occupy the 21st floor.
  • Florida EvergreenTraditionally, some type of evergreen is used to symbolize the topping out. In Florida, that means a palm tree.
  • Dramatic ChangesThe day of the topping out, the stark contrast of more than a half century of architectural evolution is awesomely displayed.
  • Pillars Of JusticeAt least, this is the frame of the new pillars of justice. A colonnade will greet visitors to the new court entrance and lobby.
  • A Tower Gets Its FaçadeThe exterior of the new court tower rises to greet the top of the structure.
  • Sixth Street ReinventedThe long sweep of new and old court buildings defines a two city blocks between 1st Avenue and 3rd Avenue on SE 6th Street.
  • The Tour Just ChangedConsidering who has been on trial in Broward County, local tour guides may consider adding anecdotes about the courthouse. This shot was taken on the Ides of March.
  • Peek-A-BooMarch 15, 2014: Drivers moving south on the Avenue of the Arts will find the new court tower almost hides the 110 Tower.
  • A Skyline RemadeThe Fort Lauderdale skyline as seen from Davie Boulevard and I-95 on March 15, 2014.
  • Historic Landmark and Historic ChangeOne of Fort Lauderdale's historic buildings is contrasted against the backdrop of the new courthouse and the 110 Tower.
  • Surrounded Or Just Convenient?The office building where Bogenschutz, Dutko & Kroll, P.A. is located is now flanked by the new courthouse parking garage and, across 6th Avenue, the new courthouse, itself.
  • Employees OnlyThe northwest entrance of the new courthouse parking garage. The facility opens in May and will be available to courthouse staff only.
Tree Topper1 Florida Evergreen2 Dramatic Changes3 Pillars Of Justice4 A Tower Gets Its Façade5 Sixth Street Reinvented6 The Tour Just Changed7 Peek-A-Boo8 A Skyline Remade9 Historic Landmark and Historic Change10 Surrounded Or Just Convenient?11 Employees Only12

Broward Commissioners Don Hard Hats For First Tour

Broward County Commissioners, including Mayor Barbara Sharief, took part in a tour of the new courthouse tower on February 21. Commissioners had a chance to see the progress of the construction, although installation of the interior prefabricated stairwells was not yet complete. A pictorial record of the event can be viewed or downloaded as a PDF from the official county website. The record includes impressive interior shots we have not been permitted to take, as well as some exclusive “first look” aerial views of the downtown area and the east-facing view of the ocean from the upper floors of the new tower.

We close this pictorial review with the photographic comparison below, a look at the change in the south portion of the downtown skyline from April 2013 to March 2014.

Fort Lauderdale skyline changes

In Part III, we will review the history of the partners of Bogenschutz, Dutko & Kroll, P.A. and some of the high-profile cases in which we have been privileged to participate in the current courthouse. Part III will be released April 7.


History In The Making: Broward’s New Courthouse Symbolizes A Century Of Growth

New Court Tower Seen As A Metaphor For Social And Judicial Changes In South Florida

Broward County Courthouse, c. 1928
The first Broward County Courthouse, as seen in this iconic historical photo from the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society.

84 years after first opening, The Broward County Courthouse has transitioned from being a humble, four-story brick and mortar building, replete with an iconic clock tower, to emerging as a towering symbol of justice that is forever altering the landscape and very skyline of the city of Fort Lauderdale. Since first opening in 1928, the courthouse has been the scene of plenty of history, too, including playing a central role in judicial decisions of the 2000 Presidential election controversy, which focused worldwide attention on Southeast 6th Street. The new courthouse tower complex is slated to make history once more when it opens in 2015,  which is, perhaps not coincidentally, the 100th Anniversary of the creation of Broward County, itself.

Statue of Napoleon Bonaparte Broward at the county courthouse
A statue of Napleon Bonaparte Broward greets visitors to the Broward County Courthouse’s North Wing.

The county was created from a large chunk of north Dade County and south Palm Beach County, and Fort Lauderdale, which had been incorporated only four years earlier, was selected to become the county seat. That meant the city of Fort Lauderdale would serve as the hub for governmental and judical proceedings for the county, but the courthouse, itself, would not actually be completed and open for another 13 years. Broward County was originally slated to be named Everglades County, but it was renamed for the former Florida governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, who served from 1905 to 1909. Today, a statue of Governor Broward stands sentry in the corridor to the newer north wing of the existing courthouse. It was donated by the sculptor, Skip Wellever, in 1982.

The existing courthouse, not including its more contemporary additions, opened in the early 1960’s, a time of explosive population growth for the young county. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show the Broward population was only 83,933 people in 1950, but it quickly mushroomed to 333,946 by the 1960 census. By the time the 1970 population count was taken, the number of permanent residents in the county had nearly doubled to 620,100. The 2010 Census showed Broward County had a population of 1,748,066, with a 2012 population estimate of 1,815,137. Such incredible population growth, and the required judicial services to handle that population, have continued to strain the judicial system in Broward County, even with satellite courthouses opened across the metropolitan area, which handle many traffic and criminal misdemeanor cases. However, it was not the need for new capacity that inpsired plans for the court tower now under construction.

Chronic Maintenance Problems Impel Action To Build New Court Tower

A pair of exceptional pipeline ruptures in the courthouse, which had become commonplace in the aging building, practically bookended the 2008 calendar year. The first pipeline rupture, in February, caused its share of of headaches for courthouse judges, attorneys and staff. Chief Judge Victor Tobin had to take over part of the court clerk’s offices on the second floor and convert them to magistrate court. But it was the dramatic failure of a two-inch water main on December 2, 2008 that caused real problems. That pipeline rupture forced a ten-day closure of the courthouse that played havoc on the entire county docket.

Ironically, the burst pipe ruptured on the second floor, where the temporary magistrate’s offices had been located, sending water flooding through the remainder of the court clerk’s offices and cascading to the first floor. The entire court telephone system was destroyed, and some 3,000 pending case files were damaged. The incident finally forced the hand of the county, which had tried and failed to get voter approval in November 2006 for a $450-million bond issue that would have paid for a new court building.

The old Broward County Court House, as seen here in 2010, had become a maintenance nightmare, forcing the county to appoint a task force to determine whether to renovate the old structure or build a new one. Seven months after this picture was taken, the plans for a new court tower were unveiled.
The old Broward County Court House, as seen nearly two years after the infamous water main burst, had become a maintenance nightmare, forcing the county to appoint a task force to determine whether to renovate the old structure or build a new one. Seven months after this picture was taken, the task force recommended a new tower.

With the aging building practically crumbling underfoot, there seemed to be no choice about building a new courthouse. Because of the voter decision in 2006, a county task force was assembled in December 2008, immediately following the catastrophic pipeline rupture, and it was charged with exploring options for either renovating the existing building or constructing a new facility. The task force returned in June 2011 with its recommendation and plans for a new building. Artists’ conceptions of the new judicial complex were unveiled the following December, three years after the infamous pipeline burster.

The Fall Before The Rise

The old courthouse had a small courtyard square, complete with its own "liberty bell", that was the first to be demolished as construction of the new tower began.
The courtyard square, complete with its own “liberty bell”, was the among the first elements of the old courthouse to be demolished as construction crews prepared the site for the new tower, beginning in August 2012.

Construction of the new courthouse began in the summer of 2012, with demolition crews first removing the old courtyard square, just to the west end of the existing court building. That square had been the home to food vendors and the one-time landmark court bell, which hung suspended in a skeletal cube at the courtyard’s center. Though not quite iconic, the bell had become somewhat reminiscent of the Liberty Bell, itself, and a symbol of  justice in Broward County.

But the careful dismantling of the courtyard transitioned to ignominy as demolition crews moved on to one of the old court parking garages, also at the west end of the old court building. That garage collapsed unexpectedly, during the start of the demolition process, on September 5, 2012, resulting in one injury. An eyewitness video of that collapse is still being shown on the website of a local television station, WTVJ Channel 6.

Broward County Courthouse parking garage collapse
This screen capture from a South Florida Sun-Sentinel web video shows the result of an unexpected parking garage collapse during demolition on September 5, 2012.

Despite the early travails confronting the demolition crews, the contractors hired to give rise to the new courthouse were finally able to begin staging the new construction site in the autumn of 2012, and by the start of 2013, the foundation pilings had been driven, and the first levels of the new courthouse could begin to emerge from the freshly groomed construction site.

Fort Lauderdale Skyline Forever Changed By New Courthouse

New Broward County Courthouse in March 2013
The first floors of the new Broward County Courthouse tower, as they appeared in March 2013, a few months after demolition of the old courtyard square and adjacent parking garage.

The early stages of construction featured an unremarkable work site, with the normal array of rebar and concrete being assembled and fitted like a great, three-dimensional stone and steel puzzle. However, as the first, then second, then third floors of the structure began to rise from the ground, it became apparent this project was of a scale that would bring a bold new crenelation to the growing Fort Lauderdale skyline.

By March of 2013, the cranes, themselves, towered above the old courthouse. It would not be long before the new tower would be visible from miles away. Only a year after building began, the new courthouse tower was an imposing sight, a potent feature of Fort Lauderdale’s skyline in transition.

With the start of 2014, the main courthouse tower was rivaling the 110 Tower, directly across Southeast 6th Street, in size and scale. It no longer mattered the vantage point of the viewer. Whether from the Rainbow Interchange of I-595 and I-95 or from Fort Lauderdale’s beaches, the skyline of the city had become transformed into something more mature, representing a city and county announcing their coming of age.

Broward County's new courthouse, under construction, as seen on Valentine's Day 2014
Valentine’s Day 2014: Two cranes are clearly seen atop the new courthouse tower, visible on the left side of this photo, taken from over two miles away atop a condo building on Fort Lauderdale beach. The tower’s presence is already a fixture of a maturing city skyline.
broward county courthouse topping out
The 20th Floor “Topping Out” Ceremony on February 21 was symbolized by a palm tree, about the closest thing to a natural evergreen you will find in South Florida. The 21st floor will house mechanical  and electrical equipment rooms.

At the end of February 2014, 18 months after the ceremonial ground-breaking, a new ceremony was held. This was the construction workers’ rite, known as “topping out”. The ceremony involves hoisting a pine tree or other evergreen to the highest point of a new construction project, when that highest point has been reached or when the last construction beam has been put into place. Since the construction was happening in South Florida, where traditional evergreens are in short supply, a palm tree was used. On February 21, 2014, the tree topper was placed by the construction crews working on the new courthouse, symbolizing the erection of the last regular floor of the new tower.

The new courthouse tower, as seen from the top floor of a grocery store parking garage, about one block from the new justice building.
The new courthouse tower, as seen from the top floor of a grocery store parking garage, about one block from the new justice building.

By now, the skin of the new courthouse was rising to meet the new height of the building, a necessary step before construction of the interior can get underway. As any construction contractor will tell you, a proper seal against the elements must be in place before interior construction can begin in earnest. By the end of February, the exterior windows and walls were complete through the 11th floor, with the next three floors well underway.

While the new courthouse tower has been under construction, the facility’s new, 1,000-space parking garage has been under construction, bordered on the west and east by Andrews Avenue and NE 1st Avenue, respectively. The north and south boundaries of the garage run from just north of SE 6th Court to SE 7th Avenue. The new garage, about a half block from the new court tower is slated to open this May, but it will only be used by courthouse staff and judges.

rendering of the new Broward County Courthouse
A contractor’s rendering of the new courthouse, as it will appear in 2017, after the old court building is demolished and replaced by a 500-space public parking garage, visible just in front of the new tower. In the lowest part of the illustration can be seen the east wing. Both the east wing and the north wings will remain intact, but interior renovations to those sections will continue through 2018.

As for the old courthouse, it will become a new 500-space parking garage for the general public, but it will take a little longer to open and complete. The reason is obvious: the current courthouse must be vacated, then imploded, then the new parking garage constructed in its place. When the new garage is opened in 2017, the full scope of the original construction plans for the new Broward County Judicial Complex will be nearly fully realized, two years into the county’s second century.

All that will remain, then, will be for contractors to renovate the interior sections of the east wing and north wing of the courthouse, which were built decades after the 1950’s structure. Interior renovations will continue through 2018.

The opening of the new courthouse tower in 2015 will herald the start of a new century of justice in Broward County, one that could easily bear witness to unexpected and historic events, with ramifications that are more than legal. Indeed, some of the rulings that emerge from her courtrooms may easily have an impact on the social and political lives of millions of people throughout the 21st Century and into the 22nd, on the way to Broward’s bicentennial.

Much like those construction workers of yesteryear, who built the very first Broward Courthouse on that lot now occupied by the east wing, today’s contractors will have no way of knowing just how they have contributed to the history they are building today.

Next, in Part II: A slideshow of the construction project, with hundreds of photographs of the construction process. Scheduled release on March 17.
Then, in Part III: How the attorneys of Bogenschutz, Dutko & Kroll, P.A. have been witness to and participants in the history of law in Broward County and South Florida. Scheduled release on April 7.

CORRECTIONS: This story originally stated the 10-story version of the old courthouse, which is currently in use, opened in the late 1950’s. It actually opened in 1962.