Judicial center puts branches of government under one roof

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By The Staff

I have heard a lot of talk about the new judicial center, also known as the courthouse, much of which has been positive but a great deal which can described as critical and/or questioning.

Perhaps the most descriptive talk about the judicial center is the size. Now while I use the term judicial center it should be pointed out that much of this facility is for nonjudicial categories.

In that I mean that our system of government which is much like the federal government in which we have three branches, executive, legislative and judicial.

The nonjudicial employees or uses include the clerk of court and staff who is elected by the people and while critical to the function of the judicial functions, it is separate. Also there is probation, pardon and parole offices and employees, which are under the executive branch but used by judicial functions.

The probation and parole office, which is now located in several places including out near the sheriff’s office and in the family court building presently located in the old health department building.

Also in this new center is the solicitor and his staff (secretarial, investigative and several assistant solicitors.) As is the public defender and his staff (secretarial, investigative and several assistant public defenders.)

Once again the solicitor and public defender are under the executive branch of our government as well as the probation, pardon and parole.

While the above is not all inclusive as to who and what will be located in the new judicial center, I believe a number of people who say or question the size of the new judicial center fail to realize or take into account that this new facility will result in needed centralization of many state and local agencies and offices.

Also, the probation, pardon and parole office will now be where it needs to be and the building being used will no longer be needed.

The family court, which includes other agencies, will also be closed and centralized in the new judicial center.

Also, the department of juvenile justice and the drug court, which are presently using space in the family court building (old health department.)

The probate court, which includes the judge of probate and her staff (secretarial, administrative and assistant probate judge) will now be located in the new judicial center.

The probate court offices in the county administration building can be used for other county purposes.

I believe a short description of what will be located on each floor of the new judicial center may enlighten many who are unfamiliar with all the different offices in the new center.

First floor: A security checkpoint for all persons entering, including staff, to include metal detector and X-ray for bags, which is mandated by the S.C. Supreme Court. This area can be sealed off in the event of an emergency.

On this floor will be the clerk of court’s office, family court room and offices, family court judges offices, probation, parole and pardon service offices, and the department of juvenile justice, including the drug court offices.

Second floor : A jury assembly room so jurors aren’t forced to sit in court while waiting to be drawn in a case; the probate judges offices, a probate courtroom, two trial courtrooms for use by circuit court or family court, and associated judicial office space, judges office: clerks, etc., two conference rooms for use by litigants and their counsel off of each courtroom; and a holding cell for criminal court off each of these two courtrooms;  a counsel room for case preparation and conferences.

Third floor: The solicitor’s office and his staff and the public defender’s office and his staff will occupy a portion of this floor and the remaining area will be left unfinished. The unfinished area in the future can provide up to two additional courtrooms and more office space.

Basement: Consists of approximately half of the space in the first floor, and it will also have a secure sallyport for transporting prisoners safely from lock-up to the courtroom, lock up cells for male, female and juvenile prisoners are included.

These persons will be securely held here until needed in the appropriate courtroom – circuit, family or probate – and then transported by elevators straight to the courtroom. These elevators are not for use by the public for security reasons.

The sheriffs office will have a command post for the building with secure no-contact interview booths for lawyers and prisoners. Lastly, numerous mechanical space will utilized in this area.

I am sure if you have read all of the above you can appreciate the size of this judicial center and how well planned it has been. The old Robert Mills Court House provided very 1ittle of what is necessary or required.

In the upstairs was the courtroom, which was inadequate both for security protection – no conference rooms, only a jury room with two bathrooms for jurors use only, and a small judges’ chamber.

On the ground floor the clerk of court used two of the offices and I am certain he would state that this space was inadequate besides being antiquated.

Also, the solicitor had one office for an assistant and the public defender had two small rooms. There was also a public restroom each for men and women.

I hope for those of you who have not had the opportunity to investigate the uses of the new judicial center and/or are not aware of the many agencies and offices that will use this facility as it and they serve the people of Lancaster County, my description of the same will provide a better understanding for you.