The whole discussion of building a new courthouse for Oconee County began after a summer audit turned up many concerns about security in the building, said David Sweat, Chief Judge of the Superior Court of the Western Circuit, which includes Oconee and Athens Clarke counties.
The Georgia Sheriffs' Association has developed a set of standards for all courthouses "and the Oconee Courthouse has some shortcomings," he said. These involve the proper handling of inmates and the security of court staff and other architectural issues.
"It brings up the issue of what the courts need for courthouse space going on into the next 10 or 20 years. There are many time when there’s not sufficient space, and we try to manage it through scheduling, but you can’t avoid the conflicts," Judge Sweat said.
The Western Circuit has three judges, but the workload is such that another judge is needed. And that judge, Judge Sweat says, will need to be in Oconee because of the lack of space in the Clarke County Courthouse.
The current courthouse has two hearing courtrooms, and no rooms for non-jury hearings. There isn't a sufficient waiting area nor a good place for officials to meet with witnesses. "And just a number of issues," he said.
The courthouse has both administrative and judicial space. People enter and exit all day on County Commission business, but they stay all day when court is in session. Judge Sweat says retrofitting a building that was updated in the 1980s to meet current security standards is "difficult," demanding more space than most older courthouses were built with.
Land purchase, site preparation, courthouse.