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Fire closes courts at historic courthouse

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A fire heavily damaged historic Jefferson County Courthouse Wednesday evening. Remodeling and restoration to the courthouse and cupola were completed yesterday and bunting made by women in the Indiana Department of Correction was scheduled to be hung Friday. The fire has displaced the offices and courts located inside.

The first 911 call came in to dispatchers at 6:18 p.m., said Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong. Investigators are still on the scene, but it looked like the fire may have begun in the dome or roof area. He urged people not to jump to conclusions and let investigators do their job.

At a press conference this morning, Jefferson County Commissioner Julie Berry described Wednesday as "the best of times, and the worst of times," alluding to the Charles Dickens' classic "A Tale of Two Cities." She said the courthouse looked the best it ever had in her lifetime - with nearly $175,000 invested in renovations - but then later that day it was the worst of times when the fire broke out.

The third floor had a lot of damage; the second floor had water damage and some fire damage; and the first floor and basement had water damage, it was reported at the press conference. The city hopes to salvage and restore as many documents as it can and had made backups to many documents like marriage licenses and records.

County commissioners and council members met at 8 a.m. to discuss where to relocate the offices and courts located in the courthouse. The courts are closed today while details are being worked out, Armstrong said. The city offered the courts its council chambers because it's set up similar to a courtroom, and the Madison school system has offered use of a school located about a block and a half away from the courthouse. He said neighboring Switzerland and Jennings counties also have offered use of their facilities. Officials hope to determine where the courts will be relocated by later today.

The courthouse was built around 1854 or 1856, said the mayor, and it was to be a focal point for the city's bicentennial celebration this summer. This is at least the second fire to happen in the courthouse, he said. While the city is saddened by this fire, he said they will rebuild the courthouse.

Kathryn Dolan, public information officer for the Indiana Supreme Court, said the high court is expecting a petition from the Jefferson County judges and clerk requesting Administrative Rule 17 relief. If the Supreme Court grants the petition, it would allow the courts to suspend deadlines related to civil and criminal cases for a period of time.

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  1. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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