Team 10: State court rents high-end offices in San Diego at taxpayer expense

Appeals court locked in $23M lease over 10 years

SAN DIEGO - A Team 10 investigation found a state appeals court renting high end office space in San Diego that will cost taxpayers more than $23 million over the course of the lease.

California's 4th District Court of Appeal is in a 10-year lease in the Symphony Towers downtown.

Click Here to view the lease

The lease includes more than 64,000 square feet of office space and 15 reserved parking spaces. 

The lease began in July 2008, and was signed by the state agency, Administrative Office for the Courts.

When the lease began, rent was more than $163,000 a month for the first year. Each year the rent increases. Rent will be more than $222,000 a month in the final year of the lease, which ends in 2018. 

Team 10 asked to see the space taxpayers are renting.

"There will be no interviews and there will be no tour," California's court spokesman said. "There's nothing in it for the courts."

"It's a slap in the face not only to the employees - those responsible for serving the public - but for the public themselves," said Warren Smith, president of San Diego's court employees union.

Smith said his members were "put on the streets to look for other jobs" over the holidays.

Nine San Diego Court employees were laid off in December 2012.

Smith works out of a trailer, used in San Diego's traffic court.

The4th District Court of Appeal lease costs 38 percent more than the average rate currently available in San Diego, according to statistics on San Diego real estate.

Critics said the court could have found a less expensive option.

 "I always coach my clients to evaluate the cost of ownership versus the cost of leasing," said Dottie Surdi, a commercial real estate broker.

Surdi is part of San Diego's Association of Realtors. She said on what the state will spend over the course of the current ten year lease, the state could have paid for permanent offices.

This is not the first time state courts have refused to talk to Team 10 about their spending. 

In 2012, Team 10 found state employed lawyers living outside California and sometimes out of the country, as they earned six-figure salaries. 

In 2011, Team 10 exposed the high price of court maintenance including more than one hundred dollars to replace light bulbs and hang clocks on courtroom walls.

Public money funds the lease, but the decision to allow cameras in California's courts is entirely up to judges

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