Judge issues deadline on courthouse work

Published 7:07 pm Friday, July 26, 2019


Because Southampton County government officials have not made meaningful progress on improving the condition of the county courthouse, Judge Carl E. Eason Jr. of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Virginia has issued a 12-month deadline “by which time the Judges would expect that actual and meaningful physical renovations, which, at a minimum, meet the standards established by the Supreme Court of Virginia, have begun on the Courthouse, or construction has begun for a new courthouse on contiguous property, if the County so chooses.”

This came from a letter dated Wednesday, July 24, from Eason to County Administrator Mike Johnson.

As a result of this letter, board chairman Dallas Jones has called a meeting of the supervisors for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 6, in the board meeting room at the county administrative offices, 26022 Administration Center Drive, Courtland.

The judge noted that there’s been no evident decision by the county government about the renovation or building of a new courthouse, and that he and other judges “have a duty to ensure that the facilities in which the various Courts of the County sit are not “insecure, out of repair, or otherwise pose a danger to the health, welfare and safety of court personnel or the public.”

Eason also stated that if meaningful progress was not made within 12 months of the letter, “that sessions of Court which are currently being held at the Courthouse be held at other locations within the Fifth Judicial Circuit.”

Three of the seven supervisors contacted expressed their reaction. Dr. Alan Edwards of the Jerusalem District said he’s sympathetic to what Eason wrote: “I think he’s very frustrated with how things are going. I don’t know if we can make the 12-month deadline or not. He’s very concerned about the safety of public and I share that concern after what happened in Virginia Beach.”

Edwards was referring to the active shooter that killed 12 people in that city’s municipal center on May 31.

He continued, “It’s a legitimate concern. This has been dragging on for too long. Public sentiment wants the old courthouse to be renovated for cheaper [cost] and keep things like they are.

“I share the judge’s frustration.”

Carl Faison of the Boykins District said, “I guess I am not surprised. I knew we had to do something and that time is running out. With that letter we just have to come to a consensus earlier than we thought. I look forward to that Tuesday night and discuss where to go from there.

“In terms of what to do, my ears open. [It’s going to be] a very expensive endeavor. Most importantly, we need unity on a procedure and follow through. I hope we can do what’s best for the county.

Barry Porter of the Franklin District said, “It could have been worse. It could have been the show cause order.”

That, he explained, would have made the issue a court-administered proceeding. An outside judge would be appointed. The County would have to hire an architect, engineer, etc., and pay for all of it.

“We still maintain control process with this letter. It’s pretty clear to me that he’s saying “Renovate as you said you would or build a new one contiguous [to the property]. Some people might gloss over that.”

Porter added that the letter “shows that they’re running out of patience. To me, it’s “Guys, get with the program or we’ll move out.”

Further, he believes that people don’t understand the implications of moving the court. In addition to any renovation costs, there’s the expense of conducting court business in Isle of Wight or Suffolk.

“I’m frustrated that people are not accepting of facts,” Porter said. “We’ve tried several different methods at a lower cost.”

“It’s a strong warning and we’re fortunate that it’s a warning and not a show-cause order.”