Adams County's two courts — circuit in the courthouse and superior in a former library across a street from the courthouse — operate well, but while the courthouse has been fully renovated in recent years, the condition of the superior court building is of considerable concern.
That was one of numerous points made by circuit court judge Frederick A. Schurger as he gave the annual State of the Judiciary address on Monday to a crowd of about 40 people after a Decatur Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Woodcrest Retirement Community.
Judge Schurger, who has been an attorney and a jurist in his hometown for almost 40 years, said the probation department upstairs in the building has over 40 filing cabinets bowing the floor, the chief deputy prosecutor says the building stinks of mold, and jury space is inadequate and probably violates jury-deliberation rules.
He also said of the structure of his colleague, superior court judge Patrick R. Miller, whose court shares the building with the county probation department, that is only one space for counsel to meet clients, [almost] nonaccessible given its location next to the jury box; the outside waiting area is a narrow corridor; and the first-floor location creates major security concerns, with the sidewalk next to windows at the rear of the courtroom and the judge's office with outside windows.
The courtroom has a large post in one area that creates a space where people cannot see or be seen and blocks entry into the courtroom for Americans with Disabilities Act purposes, according to Judge Schurger.
Both judges are involved in a committee process to decide whether to renovate the current superior court/probation site, move those two to another downtown building, or build a new structure.
Schurger, noting that the former Decatur Public Library board left that building because its floors could not take the weight of books, told the Chamber of Commerce audience that he favors a new building. He said a new building should have the following assets:
• First-floor access, with elevators large enough for wheelchairs.
• Hallways with enough room for people to pass easily.
• A single security checkpoint and, in an ideal world, such that the new building and the courthouse could share that entry point.
• Clean, well-lighted restrooms.
• One large backup space or meeting room large enough to meet Adams County's needs for 100 years.
The courtroom, judicial office, and staff offices would presumably be on the upper floor for better security.
The judge summed up his views by saying that, with the current economic conditions, "this is a good time to build. Building in downtown Decatur is much like building a new hospital for Adams County. It makes a statement that we believe in ourselves, that this is a growing and vibrant community."
However, instead of letting elected leaders make the final decision, Schurger declared, "The question needs to go to the voters by way of a referendum. We, as public officials, have a duty to explain why it needs to be done, but the voters have the ultimate right to decide, as this is their building: their justice center.
"The courts in Adams County are at a major turning point. The people of Adams County will have to decide if they have the confidence in themselves and their needs to make this decision."