New day for Durham judicial system

Officials hope new facilities will be more pleasant for the public

jwise@newsobserver.comFebruary 5, 2013 

— Durham County moves into its fourth courthouse Monday, and court officials hope the public will find dealing with Durham’s judicial system a bit more pleasant than in the past.

Eleven stories tall, the new courthouse stands across Mangum Street from the Durham Performing Arts Center, dominating the view of downtown from the Durham Freeway. It adjoins the Durham County jail and a new, 897-space parking deck. Together, they fill a city block, forming a complex called the Durham County Judicial Center.

“It’s a beautiful building, worthy of being a courthouse,” said Chief Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson. “It has respect pouring out of it, and that’s what you want a courthouse to be like.”

The $119 million structure features enhanced security, with key-card-only admission to much of the interior to create separate “circulation areas” for judicial personnel, attorneys, defendants and the general public until they meet in one of the courtrooms. There will be 20 courtrooms initially, with room for expansion to 27.

Among other amenities:

• Eleven high-speed elevators, six for public use, in place of the three sluggish elevators in the current Judicial Building.

• A third-floor kiosk area, to be staffed with a magistrate and assistant district attorney, to expedite routine traffic cases.

• Sensors to automatically adjust lighting, “green roofs” to control stormwater runoff, and a cistern to hold rainwater for irrigation.

• A spacious jury-pool room with coffee, lockers, flat-screen televisions, and desks where prospective jurors can work while waiting to be called.

Days past are commemorated in the new courthouse with a photo-mosaic mural that covers more than 1,400 square feet on one wall of the lobby and forms an image of the 1916 courthouse, made up of several thousand postcard-size photographs of historic Durham scenes, and past and present court and local-government officials.

Those photographs include portraits of two former district attorneys who left office under unfortunate circumstances: Mike Nifong, who resigned in disgrace in 2008 over his handling of the Duke lacrosse case, and Tracey Cline, who was removed from office last year after a public feud with Hudson.

County Engineer Glen Whistler said the selection of photos was reviewed and approved by the county commissioners in February 2012. Hudson was on the committee that worked on the mural.

“We knew that (Nifong’s and Cline’s presence) might be somewhat controversial, but, you know, it is the ultimate history of the courthouse,” Hudson said.

“History may not be kind to some of the others on that mural,” he continued. “I hope that’s not the case, but what do we do when that happens? We can’t put an ‘X’ through it, you know, mark them out once they go up there.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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