Judge Makes Case For Moving Forward With J&DR Court Plans
At some point this year, city council will have to decide if this in fact will be just a temporary home for the court.
He was subtle but Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge David F. Peterson made a case for giving him and his staff a new facility when the city begins construction of its new courthouse building on Princess Anne Street sometime next year.
In his 25 years as a judge—12 years as the full-time J&DR court judge and 13 as a substitute judge—he has always had a temporary courtroom in Fredericksburg. Before the move to Executive Plaza at 601 Caroline St. two weeks ago, J&DR Court was in an old funeral home downtown at 701 Princess Anne St. that had no modern technology and lacked safety measures that most courtrooms have today.
But there is uncertainty if Executive Plaza will be just a temporary home. Most council members want to make use of the historic Renwick Building where Circuit Court is held now, but to do that they will need to find savings in the $36.7 million in bonds that have already been issued to construct a 78,000-square-foot courts facility to house a new General District and Circuit Court. The plan is that the Executive Plaza space is only temporary until the renovation of the old General District Court is complete. Then the city will move Juvenile Domestic Relations Court there, but it's not set in stone if City Council will move forward with this plan.
Fredericksburg Sheriff Paul Higgs said the J&DR court now has a $200,000 control center with an X-ray system right when you walk in that is similar to what you might see at an airport. Judges and the clerks no longer have to share bathrooms with inmates. Cameras are in numerous areas and intercom systems allow for deputies to speak with inmates. Judge Peterson said the U.S. Marshal's Service recommends that three deputies work at the control center, but the city only has one working the station. Another deputy mans the entrance to the courtroom and the third stands by the judge in the courtroom. Across from the courtroom are two smaller rooms where attorneys can speak with clients and fingerprints are taken. There are four holding cells with key card access, instead of three in the old location.
"It's a whole lot safer here now than it was before," said Sgt. David Sullivan.
Judge Peterson said he was not going to answer any questions about the security deficiencies of the current building because of safety reasons, but he would be happy to discuss those with City Council in a closed meeting.
The ceilings in the courtroom are about 7.5 feet high, and the judge could almost touch it on his toes. Near his bench, the ceiling was raised about six inches.
"I was feeling a little claustrophobic," he said.
Court Clerk Joan Millward was excited about her new space and the fact that she finally has an office for the first time in 11 years. She also loves the two windows for customers, instead of just one. Although she has less space, it is more efficient. She no longer has to do dishes in a room where prisoners are located or share the bathroom with them. But there isn't much room for growth in the Executive Plaza location and record-keeping is already tight in the clerk's office.
"We had to go through two locked doors to pull the files before," she said. "For us it's workable. I am very thankful for what we have. I am very grateful to be here."
Judge Peterson said the courtroom is a little smaller, but adaquate. But there isn't a conference room, which he said is not optimal.
This is the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court's fourth interim facility.
The city already issued $36.7 million in bonds for the new courthouse project, and the work includes:
- Design new court facilities.
- Renovate Executive Plaza first floor for temporary occupancy by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
- Demolish the existing structures at the corner of Princess Anne and Charlotte streets.
- Construct the new courthouse at corner of Princess Anne and Charlotte streets.
- Move the Circuit Court and General District Court to the new courthouse.
- Renovate the General District Courthouse Move the J&DR Court to the renovated former General District Courthouse.
The entire project is projected to be finished by late 2014 or early 2015.