County commission hears proposal for courtroom updates
After a week in office, Second District Court Judge Norbert Marek Jr. is looking at ways to improve the functionality and aesthetics of the courtrooms located on the third floor of the Jackson County Courthouse.
Marek and Colleen Reamer, clerk of the court, recently met with the Jackson County Commissioners to discuss potential renovations to the courtrooms to maximize space and reduce the number people required to wait in the hallways outside the courtrooms.
“My biggest priority is to do something with the small courtroom,” Marek said. “I want to see if it’s possible to convert the three rooms in that courtroom into just one.”
Currently, the smaller courtroom includes two offices that are not being utilized by visiting judges, Marek said.
“If we could open up the room, we could seat more people in there,” he said. “One of the issues we have on busy days is that our hallways are crowded, and there’s no place for those people to go.”
Marek also suggested that, if it’s possible to expand that courtroom, a jury box be installed to accommodate six jurors.
“That way the room could be jury-ready for misdemeanor trials, and we could expand the use of that room,” he said. “We want to get the most bang for our buck.”
There’s also an issue with exposed plumbing pipes in the small courtroom, Reamer said, which can be noisy and make it difficult for the court reporter to hear court proceedings sometimes.
“The way the courtrooms look sends a message about what Jackson County is and our justice system,” Marek said. “If we could add a few rows of seating, then we could get people seated and out of the hallway. Our security personnel have also expressed that they don’t like people in the hallway.”
Marek said he didn’t know if there was enough space in the small courtroom to include a jury box or if any of the current walls are load bearing and could not be removed.
The commissioners agreed with Marek that he could have a local architect come in to look at the space in the smaller courtroom to determine what renovations could be made.
Marek said his second priority, after renovations to the small courtroom, is updating the jury room, which he described as “well worn.”
“We make the jurors come here – they don’t have any choice – and they are members of our community. We want them to feel welcome and to thank them for coming and for serving here,” he said. “The jury room they spend time in should reflect the hospitality of Jackson County. They are a part of a very important system.”
Marek suggested a new coat of paint for the room and new carpet. He would also like to purchase a nicer table. He said he enjoys historical pieces and would like the furniture and other items to match with the current items in the courtrooms.
In the main courtroom, Marek said, eventually, updates are needed to the court reporter’s desk, as well as the council tables and the podium.
Marek told the commissioners that he is open to suggestions at any time to improve any aspects of the courtrooms.
“You’re welcome to look around,” he said. “I’m the district judge, but it’s not my third floor. I don’t own it or tell you what to do with it. These are just some ideas.”
The commissioners noted that the ceiling in the courtroom needs attention, as well as the floating paneled wall that separates the large courtroom from the clerk’s office.
Marek suggested that the county look into placing the Courthouse on the state’s register of historical places in order to receive Heritage Trust funds for infrastructure improvements.