Jury trials are going up, caseloads are growing and put before new judges brought in to handle them, but there's a problem. There's no more room at the Leon County Courthouse.
Chief Judge Charles Francis of the 2nd Judicial Circuit said, "It's pretty bad because we have judges with time and no courtrooms. It's a bad situation. You have trials and not enough places to hold them."
And if you ask Judge Francis, space at the courthouse ran out a long time ago, as far back as 1997.
Francis added, "Almost every closet we had available we had a staff member in it."
His overcrowding woes are about to end. Leon County is wrapping up a $4.9 million renovation project. The dollars went towards moving county offices across the street to the Bank of America building, two new courtrooms, and additional judicial space. The redesign also includes as many federal courthouse security standards as possible.
Bill Wills, Trial Court Marshal with the 2nd Judicial Circuit, said, "Essentially there's a separate judicial corridor that allows judges to come into the courtroom. Prisoners have a separate circulation pattern. We have digital recording devices throughout all the hallways so bailiffs are safer."
Prisoners will be kept separate in holding cells right off the new courtrooms, never in contact with the public. That's opposed to what's done now, walking suspects through public hallways and downstairs to another holding area.
The recent renovations are one phase of the renovation of the courthouse. Next year a $4.1 million project will begin, adding two more courtrooms and consolidating Clerk of Courts functions on the plaza level.