Additional courtroom unlikely until October

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A new jury trial courtroom at the Pike County Courthouse could be on the way, but it will likely have to wait until October for construction to begin.

Pike County Circuit Judge Jeff Kelley addressed the Pike County Commission at its meeting Monday night, but no vote of action was taken.

“We were just trying to get a feel for their willingness to assist in the near future,” Kelley said.

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Commission Chairman Jimmy Barron said after conferring with other commissioners, the commission is on board with the project, but that it will wait until its new budget is approved in October before officially committing.

There is a small possibility that the project could get underway soon with a promise of reimbursement by the commission in October, but Kelley said such an arrangement is unlikely.

“It’s possible that could happen, but I doubt that it will happen,” Kelley said.

“We would probably have to have the full funding available before we would start the project.”

Kelley said without funding in place, the project would likely have to wait until the next budget hearings to start the construction efforts.

“We’ll probably wait at least until the next budget hearings so we can have some assurance that we are in the budget,” Kelley said.

The proposed location for the courtroom is the current location of the law library at the Pike County Courthouse. The estimated total cost of the project is roughly $29,000.

The commission is being asked to provide $13,000 for the courtroom, while Kelley and other judges have secured $16,000 for the project.

The majority of the money that has been secured comes from the law library fund, while $1,000 of it will come from the district attorney’s office.

The law library fund id funded through court filing fees, and is not specific to simply law libraries. Rather, the funds can be used for a myriad of court improvments. The project is not expected to deplete the fund.

Kelley also said the current plans call for some books and bookshelves to remain in the courtroom so that a law library will remain in the courthouse.

However, most law research is currently done using online services, a feature that could be included in the new courtroom for the public.

“The Alabama State Bar provides free online service to the members of the bar, so one thing we may have to do is get the bar to set up some kind of access for the public at the courthouse,” said Malcolm McSwean, President of the Pike County Bar Association.

The new courtroom would assist in alleviating scheduling difficulties and workloads since it would provide more flexibility.

“Hopefully, this will come through,” McSwean said.

“It’s a desperate need. There’s no way Judge Kelley could have stressed that enough during the meeting Monday night.”

We can’t schedule all the judges here right now. That’s what slows us down considerably in getting cases heard and judges scheduled.”

McSwean said the additional courtroom would make the scheduling of trials much easier, enabling more cases to be heard at a time.

“One of the beauties of this project is that we don’t have to schedule around other judges, and that really does make a difference in getting things accomplished,” McSwean said.

Kelley said the potential project could be an opportunity for many different interests to cooperate on one common need.

“It’s something we need desperately, what with the increase in cases recently,” Kelley said.

“It’s a great opportunity to work together and it’ll be a win-win situation for everybody.”

Barron, meanwhile, said the commission is likely to lend its eventual financial support.

“The commission is pretty much on board with the project, but we just didn’t want to commit at the moment,” Barron said. “Right now, we just don’t want to dip into our general fund.”