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Jefferson County Courthouse reopens

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More than two years after an accidental fire destroyed the Jefferson County Courthouse roof and heavily damaged the upper floor, those displaced by the fire have moved back into the landmark.

Several years ago, nearly $175,000 was spent renovating the courthouse, and on May 20, 2009, the day renovations to the courthouse were finished, smoke and flames were seen in that evening coming out of the courthouse roof. The fire was later ruled accidental, the result of contractors soldering copper downspouts and gutters on the roof.

The offices and courts were displaced, with the third floor suffering the most damage due to its proximity to the fire, but water damage was an issue throughout the building. Jefferson Circuit and Superior courts relocated into separate buildings in Madison, Ind. The records housed in the courthouse were backed up electronically up to the day of the fire, and many paper files were able to be saved through a freezing process and restoration.

The Circuit and Superior courts, clerk’s office, and the offices of the assessor, auditor, recorder, treasurer, county commissioners, and IT department began their move back into the restored courthouse the first week of August. Jefferson County Commissioner Julie Berry said the county used Department of Correction inmates from the Henryville Correctional Unit to move the offices from their temporary locations. The move was supervised by the county highway department and saved the county more than $20,000, she estimated. All offices are now up and running.

The outside will look nearly the same, as the courthouse is situated in downtown Madison, which is a historic district and has certain regulations for buildings in the area. But there were changes made inside, such as making the building more energy efficient and the incorporation of security measures. Because of the damage to the third floor, which houses the Circuit Court, officials were able to reconfigure the layout and convert the area designated for the library into a third courtroom.

Circuit Judge Ted Todd noted that thanks to computers, the courts don’t really need a library anymore. Now, the courts can utilize that space as a third courtroom when a senior judge comes onboard while Judge Todd is on a jury trial. It also allows Judge Todd to use the room when Superior Court needs a courtroom for a 12-person jury. The Superior Court, housed on the second floor, remains pretty much the same as before the fire as load-bearing walls prevented reconfiguration. That court only has a jury room big enough to handle a six-person jury.

The fire also uncovered hidden plaster molding in the Circuit courtroom. It was covered up by a lower ceiling, and officials hired a local craftsman to recreate what was missing, Berry said.

This would be the second time since the fire the Circuit Court has moved. They were in one office for two months just after the fire, and then moved into another location until the renovations were complete, said Judge Todd.

“We had a windowless room, it was sort of debilitating,” he said, noting how happy staff is to be back in the courthouse. “Everybody has a smile on their face and feeling good. It’s nice to be back.”

Now, officials will celebrate the reopening of the courthouse with a rededication ceremony Aug. 26. Berry said it will be a tribute to the volunteer fire departments that helped save the courthouse. Judge Todd and Superior Judge Alison Frazier will be on hand to speak, as well as Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony to “open up” the courthouse.

Tours will be held Aug. 27, as well as an open house for those interested in seeing the renovated courthouse.
 

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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