COURT IN OLDE CLARKE COUNTIE

September 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve posted before here and here about the renovation of the upstairs court room in the Clarke County Court House in Quitman. The photo to the right shows the court room when the renovation had just begun. You can see the plywood panelling that sheathed the room, as well as the placement of the jury box at that time. Glory be for the renovation!

The court room was encased in plywood panelling in the 1970’s. Before then, there was a large, pot-bellied stove in front of what you see in this photo as the witness stand. The stove provided heat for the entire court room. In cold weather, lawyers would stand by the stove and warm their hands during trials as they questioned witnesses (who sat on the judge’s left-hand side in those pre-panelling days) or addressed the jury. When the panelling was added, the ceiling was lowered and central air and heating were installed in the balcony. The lowered ceiling concealed the machinery, pipes and conduits. The panelling also concealed all of the windows, so that the court room was a fluorescent-lit, windowless chamber.

In the court room today, you can observe two doors, one in the jury box and one in the rear of the court room, that open out onto the balcony. Until those doors were concealed behind the panelling, it was the practice when court was called into session for the bailiff to go out on the balcony and announce loudly to the bystanders in the streets below that court was in session, and inviting all who may have any business to come forward and be heard.

By the 1990’s, before the addition to the east side of the building, with its new court room, the court house had fallen into a sad state of disrepair. Some of the windows behind the panelling were broken, letting in rain and inviting birds to nest in the walls. It was not uncommon to hear cooing pigeons throughout a trial. Eighteen-wheelers lumbering in low gear along Archusa Avenue in front of the building made the windows rattle and shake to such an extent that it was often necessary to pause in questioning a witness until they passed. The disrepair was not limited to the windows. In one case I tried, my client and I had to move our table several feet when a sudden thunderstorm sent a stream of water from the ceiling right onto my case file.

It’s all better now, thanks to forward-looking Clarke County leadership.

____________________________________

Thanks to George Warner, former DA and Chancellor, for some of these recollections.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ivey

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