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Jefferson County celebrates reopening of courthouse

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For more than 150 years, if you wanted to know who practiced law in Jefferson County, you could go to the courthouse and see a ledger full of attorneys’ signatures. Before changes in the 1930s requiring attorneys to attend law school and pass the bar, all prospective lawyers had to do was be 21 years old, have the Circuit judge find them fit to practice, and sign their name in the book. Attorneys continued to sign the book after the 1930s, though maybe less frequently.

Two centuries are represented in that book, which resided in the Circuit Court until May 20, 2009, when a fire destroyed the roof and displaced those who worked in the courthouse. The book, tucked away in a drawer, survived the smoke, fire, and water damage, and after a two-year hiatus, it and all those who had to find temporary homes are now back in the Jefferson County courthouse.

The courts and government offices began moving back in at the beginning of August, and the official opening of the courthouse was Aug. 26. Many attorneys and judges from southern Indiana, along with others from throughout the state, were on hand to pay tribute to the volunteer firefighters who saved the courthouse from burning to the ground that spring evening more than two years ago.
 

courthouse-15col.jpg Community members gather outside of the Jefferson County courthouse Aug. 26 to honor the firefighters who saved the building and to celebrate its reopening. (IL Photo/ Jennifer Nelson)

It cost around $3 million to save the documents affected by water damage through a freezing and defrosting process. Overall, $8.5 million was spent on the rebuild, and nearly all was recovered by insurance, said County Commissioner Julie Berry. The outside looks just about the same as before the fire, but on the inside, changes have been made to make the building more accessible and environmentally friendly.

At the ceremony, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard spoke about the importance of preserving courthouses and their places in society. He said that it used to be that the three tallest structures in every city or town were the church, the grain elevator, and the courthouse. He also noted that in America, we always call the buildings that house the courts and government offices the courthouse, whereas names in other English-speaking countries would emphasize the word “government.”

Jefferson Circuit Judge Ted Todd addressed the crowd at the ceremony and spoke about that historic ledger containing the attorney signatures that survived the fire. While the courthouse was being renovated, the book resided with the Jefferson County Historical Society, but a representative of the organization returned it to Judge Todd during the ceremony. Judge Todd read the crowd an order he authored in which he asked the historical society keep the book safe until it could make it back to its longtime home in the Circuit Court.

While the book was kept safe at the historical society, the courts and government offices also had to find temporary homes. When the fire first happened, Jefferson Superior Judge Alison Frazier said she didn’t expect to be out of the courthouse for as long as she was. She had only been a judge for five months, and she was still acclimating herself to her position and trying to figure out procedures when she lost her office.

She thinks somebody with a lot more experience would have known a little quicker and easier how to restart.

“I experienced a significant amount of stress trying to figure things out,” she said.

But she and Judge Todd, who’s been on the bench since 1989, were unified throughout the process and spent a lot of time working on how to keep things together, she said. They found themselves operating in different locations – although just across the street from each other – which made things more challenging.

The temporary location Judge Frazier occupied did not have a room suitable for a courtroom.

“It’s hard to conduct court and maintain the appearance of authority by the position and room if you don’t have a courtroom,” she said.


courthouse-bookopen-15col Attorney signatures in the ledger that survived the fire, including Jefferson Circuit Judge Ted Todd’s signature from 1964. (IL Photo/ Jennifer Nelson)

Security concerns were an issue. Because of the lack of traditional courtrooms, the parties were closer together and to the judge during proceedings, which could make for some tense situations. Officials at the ceremony thanked law enforcement for their assistance during the temporary operations to ensure the judge, staff, and parties were safe.

Things were not easy for Judge Todd in his temporary location either. Just like Superior Court, the Circuit Court was relocated into a much smaller space, and the Circuit Court location lacked windows. He and his staff were very happy to move back into the courthouse.

Joining him in that courthouse is the historic ledger. During the ceremony, he, Judge Frazier, and Chief Justice Shepard looked at the signatures, which stopped being recorded in 1998. Judge Todd told the crowd that he’d like for attorneys to begin signing the book again, and Vevay attorney Della Swincher became the first one to sign it after the ceremony. She said when she began practicing in the county, the fire had already happened so she hadn’t had a chance to sign the book.

It was obvious during the ceremony how happy everyone affected by the fire – from the county commissioners to county employees to the judges – were to be back in the courthouse.

“When you are in temporary quarters and operating out of cardboard boxes, I felt like a fish in the bottom of a boat and I was about to die and the fisherman decided to toss me over,” said Judge Todd. “All of a sudden it felt wonderful to have a real office again.”•

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  1. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) End of Year Report 2014. (page 13) Under the current system many local registering agencies are challenged just keeping up with registration paperwork. It takes an hour or more to process each registrant, the majority of whom are low risk offenders. As a result law enforcement cannot monitor higher risk offenders more intensively in the community due to the sheer numbers on the registry. Some of the consequences of lengthy and unnecessary registration requirements actually destabilize the life’s of registrants and those -such as families- whose lives are often substantially impacted. Such consequences are thought to raise levels of known risk factors while providing no discernible benefit in terms of community safety. The full report is available online at. http://www.casomb.org/index.cfm?pid=231 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs United States of America. The overall conclusion is that Megan’s law has had no demonstrated effect on sexual offenses in New Jersey, calling into question the justification for start-up and operational costs. Megan’s Law has had no effect on time to first rearrest for known sex offenders and has not reduced sexual reoffending. Neither has it had an impact on the type of sexual reoffense or first-time sexual offense. The study also found that the law had not reduced the number of victims of sexual offenses. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx? ID=247350 The University of Chicago Press for The Booth School of Business of the University of Chicago and The University of Chicago Law School Article DOI: 10.1086/658483 Conclusion. The data in these three data sets do not strongly support the effectiveness of sex offender registries. The national panel data do not show a significant decrease in the rate of rape or the arrest rate for sexual abuse after implementation of a registry via the Internet. The BJS data that tracked individual sex offenders after their release in 1994 did not show that registration had a significantly negative effect on recidivism. And the D.C. crime data do not show that knowing the location of sex offenders by census block can help protect the locations of sexual abuse. This pattern of noneffectiveness across the data sets does not support the conclusion that sex offender registries are successful in meeting their objectives of increasing public safety and lowering recidivism rates. The full report is available online at. http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/658483 These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of conclusions and reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. People, including the media and other organizations should not rely on and reiterate the statements and opinions of the legislators or other people as to the need for these laws because of the high recidivism rates and the high risk offenders pose to the public which simply is not true and is pure hyperbole and fiction. They should rely on facts and data collected and submitted in reports from the leading authorities and credible experts in the fields such as the following. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 0.8% (page 30) The full report is available online at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_Documents/2014_Outcome_Evaluation_Report_7-6-2015.pdf California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) (page 38) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 1.8% The full report is available online at. http://www.google.com/url?sa= t&source=web&cd=1&ved= 0CCEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F% 2Fwww.cdcr.ca.gov%2FAdult_ Research_Branch%2FResearch_ documents%2FOutcome_ evaluation_Report_2013.pdf&ei= C9dSVePNF8HfoATX-IBo&usg=AFQjCNE9I6ueHz-o2mZUnuxLPTyiRdjDsQ Bureau of Justice Statistics 5 PERCENT OF SEX OFFENDERS REARRESTED FOR ANOTHER SEX CRIME WITHIN 3 YEARS OF PRISON RELEASE WASHINGTON, D.C. Within 3 years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The full report is available online at. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm Document title; A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment Author: Robert J. McGrath, Michael P. Lasher, Georgia F. Cumming Document No.: 236217 Date Received: October 2011 Award Number: 2008-DD-BX-0013 Findings: Study of 759 adult male offenders under community supervision Re-arrest rate: 4.6% after 3-year follow-up The sexual re-offense rates for the 746 released in 2005 are much lower than what many in the public have been led to expect or believe. These low re-offense rates appear to contradict a conventional wisdom that sex offenders have very high sexual re-offense rates. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/236217.pdf Document Title: SEX OFFENDER SENTENCING IN WASHINGTON STATE: RECIDIVISM RATES BY: Washington State Institute For Public Policy. A study of 4,091 sex offenders either released from prison or community supervision form 1994 to 1998 and examined for 5 years Findings: Sex Crime Recidivism Rate: 2.7% Link to Report: http://www.oncefallen.com/files/Washington_SO_Recid_2005.pdf Document Title: Indiana’s Recidivism Rates Decline for Third Consecutive Year BY: Indiana Department of Correction 2009. The recidivism rate for sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05%, one of the lowest in the nation. In a time when sex offenders continue to face additional post-release requirements that often result in their return to prison for violating technical rules such as registration and residency restrictions, the instances of sex offenders returning to prison due to the commitment of a new sex crime is extremely low. Findings: sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05% Link to Report: http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/RecidivismRelease.pdf Once again, These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. No one can doubt that child sexual abuse is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are effective in doing so. Megan’s law is a failure and is destroying families and their children’s lives and is costing tax payers millions upon millions of dollars. The following is just one example of the estimated cost just to implement SORNA which many states refused to do. From Justice Policy Institute. Estimated cost to implement SORNA Here are some of the estimates made in 2009 expressed in 2014 current dollars: California, $66M; Florida, $34M; Illinois, $24M; New York, $35M; Pennsylvania, $22M; Texas, $44M. In 2014 dollars, Virginia’s estimate for implementation was $14M, and the annual operating cost after that would be $10M. For the US, the total is $547M. That’s over half a billion dollars – every year – for something that doesn’t work. http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/08-08_FAC_SORNACosts_JJ.pdf. Attempting to use under-reporting to justify the existence of the registry is another myth, or a lie. This is another form of misinformation perpetrated by those who either have a fiduciary interest in continuing the unconstitutional treatment of a disfavored group or are seeking to justify their need for punishment for people who have already paid for their crime by loss of their freedom through incarceration and are now attempting to reenter society as honest citizens. When this information is placed into the public’s attention by naive media then you have to wonder if the media also falls into one of these two groups that are not truly interested in reporting the truth. Both of these groups of people that have that type of mentality can be classified as vigilantes, bullies, or sociopaths, and are responsible for the destruction of our constitutional values and the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. I think the media or other organizations need to do a in depth investigation into the false assumptions and false data that has been used to further these laws and to research all the collateral damages being caused by these laws and the unconstitutional injustices that are occurring across the country. They should include these injustices in their report so the public can be better informed on what is truly happening in this country on this subject. Thank you for your time.

  2. Freedom as granted in the Constitution cannot be summarily disallowed without Due Process. Unable to to to the gym, church, bowling alley? What is this 1984 level nonsense? Congrats to Brian for having the courage to say that this was enough! and Congrats to the ACLU on the win!

  3. America's hyper-phobia about convicted sex offenders must end! Politicians must stop pandering to knee-jerk public hysteria. And the public needs to learn the facts. Research by the California Sex Offender Management Board as shown a recidivism rate for convicted sex offenders of less than 1%. Less than 1%! Furthermore, research shows that by year 17 after their conviction, a convicted sex offender is no more likely to commit a new sex offense than any other member of the public. Put away your torches and pitchforks. Get the facts. Stop hysteria.

  4. He was convicted 23 years ago. How old was he then? He probably was a juvenile. People do stupid things, especially before their brain is fully developed. Why are we continuing to punish him in 2016? If he hasn't re-offended by now, it's very, very unlikely he ever will. He paid for his mistake sufficiently. Let him live his life in peace.

  5. This year, Notre Dame actually enrolled an equal amount of male and female students.

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