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Cramped Quarters, City Chaos Leave Herring Unsettled

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A little elbow room is all Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring wants for himself and his office.

And a little elbow room he can have -- if he's willing to risk walking into a vacant and available public-relations minefield on the 15th floor of City Hall.

"The perception — post-Sept. 21 — if we move in," he says — "there's going to be some question of whether our move was part of a broader and bigger plan to move the School Board."

Herring's caught between the politics of Wilder and the necessities of doing his job. "We desperately need space," he says.

City Hall's 15th floor has been vacant since the School Board moved its computer and information technology departments to the Richmond Tech Center in June. Meanwhile, Herring's office is expecting a half-dozen or so much-needed new arrivals in about 30 days to help deal with a growing caseload. The new bodies simply won't fit in Herring's cramped quarters at the John Marshall Courthouse.

Herring hardly needs the whole 15th floor of City Hall, just enough for five or six offices. The John Marshall Courthouse is where the prosecutor's office belongs, Herring says. Prosecutors — those who work juvenile cases — have their offices in the Oliver Hill Courts building. Other staffers are in overflow offices at 6th Street Marketplace, and both spaces suit the need, Herring says.

But with new staffers on the way, Herring says he's looking for additional space wherever it may be available.

"It's going to be pretty bad," he says. "If we don't get some space, I will have to get some folks to work from home."

It's difficult to doubt that claim after a quick spin around his offices at John Marshall Courthouse. Break rooms have been cannibalized to create additional offices for the current count of about 70 lawyers and staff. Large file cabinets sandwiched in walkways also serve as "offices" for unlucky staffers. Lawyers double up in 10-foot-by-10-foot offices with desks crammed, knees knocking together and the danger of accidental office-chair collisions.

"Some of my attorneys double up in space that is so small that there is no room to interview a witness," Herring says, calling conditions "dismal."

"We're in space that was configured to accommodate an office 12 to 15 years ago, and that hasn't spatially grown since," says Herring, who plans only to bring on five of the positions he's authorized to hire. "I'm not even going to advertise one of the staff vacancies because I don't have any place to put the person." S





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