By Len Ramirez

MORGAN HILL (CBS SF) — $60 million was spent on a new South County courthouse, but right now it remains mostly empty.

It was built in Morgan Hill to spare people in the area the long drive to San Jose, but their local facility looks like a ghost town.

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The South County Superior Courthouse is a gleaming, nearly new building. But it’s hardly getting used.

Morgan Hill resident Lloyd Alvarado said it’s “Virtually empty.  Except the one courtroom where all the cases are being held, all the other courtrooms are empty.”

The building houses six courtrooms for everything from felony crimes, to family court and traffic. But over time most of those court operations have been moved out of Morgan Hill to busier locations in San Jose, leaving only a felony and misdemeanor criminal court still functioning.

Defense attorney Steven Clark said, “The whole point was this is a very large county.  We need a lot of courtrooms and this was a great facility for people who live in South County.  And it’s unfortunate that now we’re not able to utilize it to its full potential.”

Presiding Judge Rise Pichon says the cuts to South County started with shrinking budgets during the recession.

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Then state money that would have back-filled the court budget went to other counties in the state that were in worse shape — sort of a revenue sharing plan ordered by the governor.

“Since we were taking the hit, we had to close because our funding never went back up,” Pichon said.

For many, it means a long drive just to take care of traffic tickets.

A lot of the cases are being referred back to San Jose.

Courthouse facilities in South County have had a very troubled past.  One complex had to be shut down because of a pervasive black mold problem. Then the portable buildings that replaced that courthouse became infested with rats and ants. And now this.”

A big beautiful building that serves just a few.

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Terri Nelson, of Morgan Hill, said, “It’s extremely odd that it would be so empty on a Monday.”