US Federal Courthouses – the judges who live in them – have virtually unlimited budgets to build.

The Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse – 3rd and SW Salmon – finished in 1997 at a cost to taxpayers of $129,000,000 – that’s one hundred and twenty-nine million simoleons. Yikes! Time to fix a loophole! Wake up John Adams and James Monroe!

But aside from the constitutional corruption (BORING!), there’s art to be had here.

Specifically – there is a secret sculpture garden on the ninth floor, open to the public but without much notice. You can go almost any business hours if you can get through the polite but intent security gauntlet. The view is tremendous – looking out over Lownsdale Square and the Justice Center. The small bronze sculptures of animals are playful, like those in the small sidewalk fountains on Morrison and Yamhill Avenues below.

This would be a great downtown treat for children from 3 to 10 years old. Or for judges who need to smoke a quick joint after lunch. It’s pretty deserted.

But no cameras. Judges don’t allow it. We might sneak away from the art and try to take a picture of someone inside who is innocent until proven guilty. UNLIKELY.

I spent about four hours in the building over the past two weeks, sans camera, without seeing a single judge or jury. Often nothing no one no where. Don’t feel alone tho – the building bristels with securty. If you visit, expect candid camera at all times.

This government waste is well documented – a Willamette Week cover story when it opened.

From WW in 1997- “The new courthouse is very extravagant and opulent no matter how you describe it,” says Barnes Ellis, a lawyer with the Portland firm Stoel Rives and a former member of the State Bar’s board of governors. “And just across the green you see the state system is absolutely overwhelmed. It’s that disparity that troubles me most.”

Ellis has since retired. But there remains no better example of public hubris in the Pacific Northwest. Well, maybe Hanford. But there’s no art there. That I know about. Yet.

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