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February 22, 2004

Workers in Casey County's new judicial center feel somewhat more isolated from the public, but they love the spaciousness of their new quarters.

After watching the building process for 18 months, employees who work with the circuit and district courts moved in November into the $6.8-million center across from the old courthouse.

"People still get lost. Every now and them, I get a little turned around myself," says Craig Overstreet, Casey's circuit court clerk.

After dealing with the many problems of a deteriorating courthouse that was built in 1888, occasionally being disoriented is a trade-off Overstreet can handle. The center contains lots of room to roam. There are three courtrooms, rooms for meetings with attorneys, holding rooms for prisoners, deliberation rooms, and especially important to employees, bathrooms.


The number of bathrooms is a source of delight to employees who up until recent years, when an employees' restroom was installed in the courthouse, had been forced to use the facilities at nearby law offices. Overstreet, circuit court clerk since 2000, says keeping the new building maintained is a big job for custodian Phillip Smallwood.

"I got tickled at Phillip. The second week he was cleaning the building and he said, 'I found another bathroom.'"

Dedication set for Saturday

Overstreet, who has worked in the circuit clerk's office since 1992, sees many advantages to the new building, and he and county Judge-Executive Ronald Wright want the public to view it. An open house is part of a dedication set for 2-4 p.m. Saturday.

"We'll open it up and let them see everything," Overstreet says.

The public will get a sample of the stepped-up security, as anyone entering the front doors must go through a metal detector. Three security guards usually are on duty, with one positioned in another room in front of the surveillance screens providing views into the courtrooms and other areas of the courthouse.

Having the extra rooms available enhances the judicial process, Overstreet says. For example, on the first floor, a district courtroom has rooms at the back so attorneys can confer with clients. "In the old courthouse, we had to stand in the hall and whisper," Overstreet says. "It's an art to learn how to whisper."

The courtrooms are wired for video arraignments, although that is not a standard procedure.

"We don't use it much. We are wired for the future. Everything about the building was built to meet today's needs and tomorrow's," Overstreet says.

The jurors also will be more comfortable with cushioned office chairs.

"Our old jury box had wooden chairs and they kind of rocked," Overstreet says.

In a deliberation room off the courtroom, a conference table is surrounded by more comfortable chairs. A kitchenette and two restrooms completes the area. A similar area is located on the second floor off the circuit courtroom.

Witness rooms also are located outside the courtrooms.

"We used to use the spare district court or whatever was handy," Overstreet says.

Security of the public and the inmates also is enhanced by having inmate holding cells on the first and second floors. In the past, the prisoners sat in old movie theater seats at the front of the courtroom.

"We would have to bring them in two shifts if we had more than seating capacity," Overstreet says.

The inmates come to the judicial center by a tunnel from the jail. The tunnel was a much talked about feature, Overstreet says. "It's virtually escape-proof."

Just as the county is enjoying the roominess of the judicial center, it also has a larger jail. The jail that opened in 2001 has 122 beds. The old jail housed 20 to 30 prisoners, but had been closed since 1996.

Procedures also have changed in Overstreet's office with more safety in mind. Instead of being behind counters while employees serve the public, they are separated from the public by glass windows.

Anyone wanting to look up information can use a computer behind a glass window. Employees have panic buttons at their desks they can push if they need a security guard.

"I haven't used it, and don't think I ever will," Overstreet says.

Debra Dalton, who works in the office, says she misses seeing people from other offices at the courthouse. "It seems like you don't get to see as many people."

The driver's licensing clerk also is located in the area. For the person giving the written driver's test, a small room across the hall is available.

"In years past, we sent people to the ambulance service, which was really inconvenient," Overstreet says, noting that the ambulance building was a quarter of a mile from the courthouse.

The pre-trial officer also has an office on the first floor.

Having a second courtroom is a big change

A trip to the second floor in one of the three elevators takes people to the circuit courtroom. Having a second courtroom is a big change from the old courthouse. When circuit court needed to meet, district court cases might be bumped to a small room at the side. Now both courts can meet simultaneously.

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