12/07/05 — Duplin officials say county needs more space for court proceedings

View Archive

Duplin officials say county needs more space for court proceedings

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on December 7, 2005 1:49 PM

KENANSVILLE -- District Attorney Dewey Hudson will have 900 cases of traffic tickets to deal with Friday at the Duplin County Courthouse and he is a little worried.

"It's not safe in a small courtroom," he said. "It's a nightmare to maintain security."

Hudson said when he first started trying cases in 1977, the calendar might have had 150 cases on it.

Now, he said he has to hold District Court every other week for offenses like traffic tickets and DWIs. He said a lack of space is the only reason he has to hold court every other week -- and he has enough on the docket to conduct proceedings every week.

"We've had District Court every week in Sampson County for years," he said. "I could find judges to do it here, too, if we had the courtroom."

Another week is devoted to Superior Criminal Court for cases like robberies or murders.

Some cases are lengthy, like a capital murder resentencing Hudson has scheduled for the first of the year. He has been told that case will take six weeks.

Civil Court also has its own schedule, and in January, Civil Court will need a courtroom to hear a malpractice civil case.

District Criminal Court "is a bear," Hudson said.

He said he went before county commissioners about getting a third courtroom five years ago, before officials discovered a leaky roof had caused damage to the original part of the courthouse. Mold was growing inside, and asbestos was found during the process of assessing the damage.

Hudson said for the past two years while repairs were being made to the original courthouse, the courts have had only one small courtroom in the new section. Court was held in the auditorium of the agricultural building and in the basement of the Social Services Building. One Superior Court judge refused to try a case in the Social Services Building, saying it was not conducive to holding court.

About $1.5 million later, the courthouse is back to where it was five years ago, one courtroom short.

"We're trying to get the agriculture building renovated and put a courtroom in it," Hudson said. "In domestic cases, you've got the victim and the defendant sitting so close, it's just not right."

The reopening of Courtroom 1 Monday has helped alleviate a shortage of courtroom space, but Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Russell Lanier said it won't solve the problem.

Kenansville is still one courtroom short, Lanier said after the rededication ceremony. He added that a third courtroom was already needed when the original section of the courthouse had to be closed for major renovations.

"Our cases have increased exponentially since the late '60s," he said. "Every time the legislature meets, they make something else a crime."

Lanier said there are more civil cases, too, because more people are getting upset with their neighbors.

"I had already been talking to county commissioners about needing more courtroom space 15 years ago when I was the county attorney," he said. "It's hard for counties to provide all the space required. My crowd has tried, really. Counties with a large tax base are better able to keep up."