Kelley: County courthouse lacks space

Published 6:57 pm Wednesday, June 16, 2010

At Monday’s county commission meeting, when Circuit Judge Jeff Kelley requested the Law Library at the Pike County Courthouse be converted into a third courtroom, he also gave mention to another need: space.

“We need additional space,” Kelley said.

“Right now what we do when we go up there is all bombard into Judge Barr’s office and interrupt him.”

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Kelley said that can be quite an entourage when all three of the 12th circuit’s judges converge in Pike County, each judge requiring a judicial assistant and a court reporter, all with their own electronics and files.

According to Kelley, the need for a resolution has already been a topic discussed among other judges, whom he said, agree there is an issue.

“We’ve been talking about office space for a few years,” he said.

“By statute, the county commission is to provide adequate space in the courthouse for the courts, judges and staff.”

The current available space, he said, is inadequate.

Kelley said one possible solution to the problem would be the relocation of the State of Alabama Probation and Parole office, which is on the second floor of the courthouse.

The same fix was implemented to relieve congestion at the county courthouse in Dothan.

“Houston County worked with the state in finding the probation and parole office a new location,” Kelley said, adding that if it came to moving Pike County’s branch of the office, similar team-effort type methods should be applied.

“We’re not trying to kick them out,” he said.

“We would want to work with them and the county commission to find them some adequate space somewhere, which may or may not be in the courthouse.”

The probation and parole office is a state agency.

They do not currently offer compensation to use their portion of the second floor of the courthouse.

While Kelley said it was imperative that something be done, he reiterated that relocating the probation and parole office was just one way of doing so.

“He just mentioned that they might need to use that space,” said County Commission Chairman Jimmy Barron.

After conferring with other commissioners, Barron said the county was on board with looking into the library conversion project, but he had no definitive opinion as to what to do about the need for more judicial office space.

“We wont be quick to make a decision on that either,” he said.

“We’re going to research it before we take any action at all.”

“We’re still in the ‘trying to gather information’ stage,” said County Administrator Harry Sanders.

“The only thing we have is the information shared by Judge Kelley.”

Sanders said the commission had been told that there might not be a legal requirement for the county to provide an operating venue for the probation and parole office, but the information had not yet been confirmed.

Either way, he said the main concern remains citizens.

“We don’t want to do anything that would lessen the services that the people of Pike County would get.”

While the county administrator could not speculate as to how the commission would play a role in helping provide more office space to judges and their staff, he did acknowledge that the courthouse is in high demand.

“Space in the courthouse is at such a premium,” he said.

Sanders said the reason the county commission central office moved to the Alabama Department of Public Health building was to free up space at the courthouse.

Other telltale signs such as the stacks of filing cabinets outside the clerk’s office illustrate the space issues at the courthouse as well.

Judge Kelley said rapidly growing case loads are only making matters worse.

“From 2005 until this past year, just the district court has increased from 7,500 to about 14,000,” he said.

And that means more work for Judge William Hightower.

“We pretty well want to make sure Judge Hightower has a courtroom every day.”

Kelley said with just two courtrooms and increasing circuit court case loads, plus more and more jury trials every year, that balancing act is becoming near impossible.

“It’s a nightmare trying to work out a schedule to use the space we have now.”

Kelley said turning the law library into a courtroom could help make things easier.

“It’s space that’s not being utilized to the best of its ability.”