Law library debate

AUTUMN OWENS/WD PHOTO

In a four to one vote, the Parker County commissioners approved moving the law library from the district court building to the Weatherford Public Library at Monday’s meeting.

In a four to one vote, the Parker County commissioners approved moving the law library from the district court building to the Weatherford Public Library at Monday’s meeting.

In December of 2019, the commissioners approved turning the current law library room into a passport facility, which gained pushback from local attorneys who said they didn’t know the law library existed. Since that time, debates have continued on the law library and passport facility.

On Monday, the commissioners were presented with two options — moving the law library into a 1,000-square foot room inside the Weatherford Public Library, or splitting the current 400-square foot room inside the district court building to house both the law library and passport facility.

“I appreciate the passion and interest in this. I think that once we’re done here, the community will have a much more educated understanding of where that law library is going to be. I don’t anticipate this coming back to the court,” County Judge Pat Deen said. “There has been an offer by the city of Weatherford from the Weatherford library, which has offered space at no charge.”

Weatherford Director of Library Services Chris Accardo said after a conversation with City Manager James Hotopp, the city agreed that it made sense to host the law library in the WPL.

“It’s a well-known location, we already have significant foot traffic through there — more than 125,000 visits a year — and we have hours every day of the week. It’s very accessible to the public, we also have professional librarians on staff and available to the public at any time to help with searches and we have the room for it,” Accardo said. “We have an approximately 1,000-square-foot room that is currently our reference area and a large area of that collection is not heavily used, so we have space there to host any law books that you might want to hold in the law library and then we also have room for computer terminals.”

The WPL is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2-6 p.m. on Sunday.

“As we looked for options and did a little comparison of what would be available at our district court building compared to what’s at the library, it’s really not even close. We have a lot more space at the public library and one of the things that was mentioned was the people that represent themselves, they need availability, and the Weatherford Public Library is much more available than the district court building is,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Larry Walden said. “The downside, of course, is that it’s not at the district court, so you have to travel to go there. We recognize that, but in looking at what the options are, the judge and I came up with a couple of scenarios.”

Walden said he recently went to the Weatherford Post Office where a disabled veteran was trying to get a passport but was turned away because he didn’t have an appointment.

“He was there trying to get a passport that day and it could not occur because they did not have an appointment. I’m not here to discuss whether we need another facility or not, but I did have that occurrence and it did flash in my face that if we have a passport facility open you could come in as needed without an appointment and it would be a benefit for a lot of our folks out there,” Walden said. “No matter what we do, there are going to be people that criticize one way or another, we can’t make everyone happy. What we do in government is make a compromise and come up with the best solution and I do believe we need a passport facility.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Steve Dugan agreed with moving the law library to the WPL but voted against the motion because he doesn’t think the passport office would be a good fit inside the district court building.

“The gentleman [Walden was] talking about that was trying to get a passport to go overseas, for him to get in and out of that district court building would be very difficult and so I don’t think it’s a good location for public access for that [passport] facility. I would love it if Weatherford hosts both, I think it would be the perfect opportunity for us and that would save our court building for actual functions of the court. As for the location accessibility-wise, I don’t think that’s a good place intermingling with the type of clientele that are in there at times. It’s district court being held in there and it’s not the right place for a family atmosphere to go in and get your passports. I would just like to see both facilities in there. I would love to support [the WPL] having both.”

However, Bar Association and law library committee member Soraya Joslin said it was her understanding that the second option of splitting the room was decided upon and settled. Joslin read the local government code as it pertains to a law library.

“The commissioners court shall provide suitable space for housing the library at a place that is both convenient and accessible to the judges and litigants of the county, so convenience is mandated.”

Joslin said the bar’s first concern is access to a courthouse.

“Our No. 2 goal is space. This is the first time I’ve heard that we would move the whole law library and so I don’t have the opportunity to ask other members of the bar. I have told you over and over again that we did not know it was there. Now we know and we also know we have taxpayer funds that have been collected not just for the lawyers, but for the public and now we know moving forward. I’d urge this commissioners court to reconsider their decision and at least keep half of the law library space where it is today.”

Deen said they’re trying to do the best they can with the resources available and that they can revisit the topic at a later date if things aren’t working out.

“We do care and as Commissioner Walden said, we’re just trying to do the right thing here and no matter where we put it, not everyone is going to be happy. We try to do the best we can and change is hard,” Deen said. “Today we’ve got to do the best we can with the resources and nothing is forever. We can revisit this down the road if it’s not being utilized, but I think this is an opportunity and we’ve done what we think is right.”

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