Justice Draped in Hollywood Hues : Court Opens With a Splash of Purple, Gray

Times Staff Writer

Defendant Clark Caviness walked into the gray-carpeted courtroom and glanced at the chairs in the jury box. They were upholstered in purple tweed--a couple of shades lighter than the building down the street that houses the famous lingerie shop, Frederick’s of Hollywood.

“It’s nice,” the 39-year-old tow truck driver said, shrugging his shoulders. “But to tell you the truth, I’d rather not be here.”

His attorney, Marshall Rubin, was more enthusiastic.

“I thought I was in a hospital operating room,” the lawyer said. “It’s the cleanest courtroom I’ve ever been in.”

Caviness, who pleaded guilty to driving with a suspended license, had the distinction of being the defendant in the first case at the new Hollywood Municipal Courthouse, which opened Monday at 5925 Hollywood Blvd.

More than 600 cases a month are expected to be heard in Hollywood’s newest landmark, which takes its place alongside such attractions as Fredericks, Mann’s Chinese Theater, and the Walk of Fame. The courthouse is being hailed as a tool in the fight to revitalize the neighborhood.

“This is a day everyone who cares about Hollywood has been waiting for. . . . The court will help battle street prostitution and other crimes, and represent a commitment to help restore Hollywood,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman who, along with the Neighborhood Action Group, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and Hollywood Bar Assn., spearheaded the four-year effort to build the $6.6-million facility.

All of the misdemeanor cases that originate in the Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, except for traffic cases, will be heard in the new building, instead of being sent to downtown courts. However, because of a backlog downtown, traffic cases are being held in the new courthouse for the next several days.

The Hollywood court is the only facility in the district operating under a federal system of administering caseloads--the three judges will preside at all phases of case disposition from arraignments through trial. Doing so will help expedite matters, because judges will be familiar with all aspects of the cases, court officials explained.

And having a courthouse for the neighborhood is not only convenient for witnesses and defendants, but it will enable the three judges assigned to the facility to become more familiar with the records of repeat offenders.

The system is expected to have an effect on prostitution cases, which are among the most common crimes in the area, and which have been considered major obstacles in Hollywood’s revitalization.

Presiding Judge Harold Crowder, who was a Hollywood police officer in the 1940s, noted, “I’ve been driving through here for 30 years, I know what’s here. . . I was on the vice squad then, and there wasn’t a streetwalker problem. The community is so enthusiastic about this revitalization that I think they are going to turn it around.”

The 35,000 square-foot courthouse includes detention space, three courtrooms and offices for the Municipal Court clerk, public defender and city attorney. Besides Crowder, Judges Michael Nash and Sandy Kriegler have been assigned to the facility. Tim Hogan will head the city attorney’s branch office, and Linda Schwartz will run the public defender’s branch office.