Court officials have expressed concern that the meeting room in Havelock’s new city hall may not be big enough to handle district court cases.
City and court officials met last week in an attempt to find a solution.
Currently, district court cases are held in the commissioners meeting room at Havelock City Hall every other Thursday. However, in the new city hall that is expected to open in September, the commissioners meeting room is slightly smaller, prompting concerns among court officials.
“The number one issue was capacity,” District Attorney Scott Thomas said. “We routinely have anywhere from 100 to 200 or even 300 cases on any given court date in Havelock.”
Havelock’s current courtroom has a capacity of 94 people, but on court days, that is often not enough space for all of the defendants and witnesses to be seated. Typically there are about 15 court officials present, which include the judge, district attorney, defense attorneys, police officers, deputies, clerks, probation officers and others.
“This has been a concern of ours for years,” Thomas said.
The room in the new building will have a capacity of 84 people.
City Manager Frank Bottorff said the city would have liked to have had a larger facility, but there wasn’t enough money in the $1.8 million project budget.
“I think as they went through the iterations of what they could afford, eventually the building had to shrink a little bit to go within the budget,” he said. “There certainly were reductions during the planning phase.
“When you look at the new room as compared to the old room, there will be a reduction of some sort in the number of public seats available but I don’t think we have a final solution yet.”
Havelock Mayor Will Lewis, who was part of last week’s meeting, said the city had made modifications to the building plans to allow for use of the room as a courtroom.
“We don’t have metal detectors and some of the other security things that they would like to have, so they mentioned way back that they’d like to have all that, but we’ve already spent about $200,000 of our own money trying to make a separate lobby, making sure that doors open and close the way we want, adding judge’s chambers in the back and a clerk room and a computer location so they can access records from right there on site,” he said.
Still, it is the size of the room that is an issue, he said.
“It’s really just a space concern,” Lewis said. “We’re going to work together over the next couple of months to try to figure out how we can make it work.”
Among the solutions being considered is maximizing the seating in the new room and adding a television screen in the courtroom lobby that would display the calendar and give court officials an opportunity to announce upcoming cases. Bottorff said that a sheltered area at the rear entrance to the building was being considered so that overflow crowds are not forced to stand in the rain.
Lewis said that part of the discussion also involved the possibility of reducing case load by adding another court date in Havelock each month.
Bottorff said that making sure that court proceedings can still be held in Havelock is a priority. He said having court in Havelock instead of New Bern saves time and money for defendants, witnesses and members of the Havelock Police Department who may have to testify in cases.
“I think everybody involved wants this to work,” he said. “What we’re trying to look at is options to make this as palatable as possible.”
Chief District Judge Walter Mills met with District Attorney Scott Thomas, Havelock Mayor Will Lewis, Commissioner Jim Stuart and Havelock city manager Frank Bottorff on May 28 to express concerns about the size of the new court facilities now under construction.
He said in the original plans for the building, just 54 seats were available in the room, but city officials worked to increase it to 84.
“On the original drawing 54 was the number of seats, and now they are saying the capacity is going to be about 84 which is good news. It’s bigger than we thought,” Bottorff said.