State Court Judge Larry Baldwin’s calendar is coated in different inks, arrows and lines in an attempt to keep things straight for three judges juggling between two courtrooms.
When the courts shuffle over the next few months, spreading out in the Hall County Courthouse and into its empty annex next door, Baldwin said the end result is efficiency.
“It gives us the flexibility to all be having court at the same time,” he said. “Having three judges use two courtrooms is very difficult, especially with jury weeks.”
The annex formerly housed county offices after the current courthouse was constructed. Both are located on Green Street just off the downtown Gainesville square.
Hall County government relocated in 2012 to the Hall County Government Center at 2875 Browns Bridge Road.
The renovation will allow the county to extend the life of the existing courthouse, which added a fifth Superior Court judge, Clint Bearden, in December.
Juvenile Court and Probate Court will move to the annex.
Magistrate Court, currently on the second floor, will move to the former Juvenile Court courtrooms on the third floor. This creates space needed for Bearden’s courtroom and a third State Court courtroom.
Baldwin said he plans to add three additional jury weeks, bringing the total to 14 weeks annually. State Court had 12,000 cases last year, with misdemeanor probation doubling to 3,200 people in the past five years.
“I’m still trying cases that are sometimes over a year old. I’d like to be trying cases that are six months old,” Baldwin said. “I think once we get the third courtroom, I think within a couple of years that we’ll be able to achieve that, even with the growing caseloads.”
Two or three times a month, Baldwin and the other judges go to the jail courtroom to handle pleas and probation revocations. Court Administrator Reggie Forrester said they would still use the jail courtroom as a way to expedite cases. The Hall County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have to move and secure inmates across the county when the jail courtroom is used.
“It’s really going to have more of an effect on the non-custodial (non-incarcerated) population, I think, to get people to trial, to get matters resolved in a quicker matter,” Baldwin said.
The shift will also affect accountability courts, as Baldwin rules over DUI Court every other Thursday at 3 p.m.
If court is still in session for arraignments, the DUI court members are waiting out in the hall.
Forrester said he expects the Probate Court staff to move into the annex between April 23-27, with Judge Patty Laine moving around May 7.
Juvenile Court probation will shift the week of May 18, and the Juvenile Court judges will move June 1.
Forrester stressed the dates are tentative, pending the finished security plan by the Sheriff’s Office.
Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix and project manager Dwaine Wilson previously told The Times they want to have cameras and the doors in place for testing and certification.
“You could rush those things, but if you get it wrong, there’s no way to do it right again. You’ve got to really take your time when you’re testing those systems and make sure everything’s in place before we open this thing up,” Nix said.
The project is being funded by the special purpose local option sales tax.