New courtrooms and ancillary spaces almost complete

by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive

A project at the Courthouse that created two new courtrooms and separate spaces for everyone involved in criminal and civil trials is almost complete.

It’s too bad we need additional courtrooms, but we definitely do. Our courthouse staff works very hard (and has for several years) juggling the growing number of General Sessions Criminal and Civil, Circuit Criminal and Civil, and Juvenile trials among the three courtrooms built with the courthouse in 1974.

It is also too bad that our Judicial District needs a fifth Circuit Judge, but three names have been submitted to Governor Lee for that appointment: Lee E. Brooks, Julie C. Heffington, and P. Nicole Long. Whoever the new judge is will serve Lawrence, Giles, Wayne, and Maury counties in a rotation with current Judges David Allen, Chris Sockwell, Russ Parkes, and Caleb Bayless.

Our new courtrooms were constructed in 11,200 square feet of unfinished space left for future growth between the courthouse and jail when the jail was built in 2009. The results are beautiful and functional, and even better, primarily built with American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The courtrooms include oak pews for spectators, which is durable and easy to clean, especially compared to the padded individual seats in our existing court rooms. Outside the courtrooms are a jury room with a restroom and small kitchen; two offices for judges and their staff; private victim/witness rooms and attorney-client rooms; an elevator that transports inmates directly from the jail; two holding cells; and a badly needed set of public restrooms. Like the rest of the courthouse, existing public restrooms are 48 years old and show it.

The Lawrence County Commission also plans to use the new Circuit Courtroom for its bi-monthly and special session meetings.

The courtrooms feature state-of-the-art audio and visual software and hardware designed to record all proceedings and allow remote appearances from the jail and elsewhere. A $319,000 grant from the State Department of Health to prevent the spread of COVID in jails was secured by my office for this technology.

The move to this area also freed up existing space in the Courthouse. The former Commission meeting room near the entrance to the new courtrooms, for instance, is now home to a literal maze of filing cabinets that store records from the Circuit Court Clerk’s office.

I hate to wish a future court appearance on anyone, so I hope you have another kind of opportunity to see our new facilities after they open, hopefully November 1.

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