Jackson County Courtrooms are open for business

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    Mark Skinner | TIMES

    The judicial section of the courthouse received some much-welcomed good news last week when they were told they would be moving back into the courthouse this past Monday. The clerk’s office, property appraiser, and the tax collector have already returned to their offices as well as the Judge Wade Mercer and his staff. However, all upstairs offices and the courtrooms remained closed due to Hurricane Michael damage.
    In an interview Court Operations Consultant Amber Baggett Tuesday, she said, “It’s not completely finished yet but we have come a long way. There were two phases and that includes the first phase which includes jury rooms, the County Courtroom, a shared witness room and the Circuit Courtroom and their adjoining rooms. What has been done up there has been mostly cosmetic like sheetrock and such, but also included repair of damage as a result of an arson that occurred in the Circuit Courtroom in 2016. Our Circuit obtained some state funds to replace the audiovisual equipment in there, about $50,000 a courtroom and we did that in several of our courtrooms across the Circuit. The Jackson Courtrooms have new paint, new carpet, new furniture, the paneling behind the judge’s bench was all replaced. There is a chair rail out in the audience now that just adds a little bit more interest. That was the first phase of the project. ”
    Baggett said it took longer to begin work on the portion of the building that was damaged by the hurricane because the Courts and the County had to secure funds. They received funds through the legislature. The legislature appropriated $1 million for Hurricane Michael damage. An asbestos abatement was completed. “It (asbestos) was not any threat to the public because it was not disturbed until the hurricane and that’s when it had to be removed. A sprinkler system is being added to the entire courthouse from the very top to the basement. That too, is not finished. The construction management firm is hoping that it will be finished in February, possibly March.” Baggett said one of the biggest changes people will see when they come into the hallways upstairs is the paneling, “The paneling that was dark and popping up and was in poor shape already has been removed. There will be a new wood paneling that will be five feet up and then sheetrock above that.”
    Baggett said work was still ongoing in the northside offices which include the state attorney, the two circuit judges’ suites, court administration offices and guardian ad litem. Baggett said those offices were damaged heavily by the storm. Baggett says she is hopeful that everyone will be back in their offices in late January. She went on to express appreciation to the Jackson County Board of County Commission for providing the temporary court and office space during this time of repair.

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