The dedication of the new Augusta-Richmond County courthouse one year ago this week represented a new era for more than 200 employees involved in the judicial system.
For some, such as the district attorney and her prosecutors, it meant finally having an office within the courthouse. Others praised an improved security system that kept inmates out of public hallways. Mostly, though, employees are glad to have moved out of the 54-year-old multi-purpose Municipal Building and into a 200,000-square-foot building dedicated solely to Augusta’s judicial needs.
Chief Judge Carlisle Overstreet calls the building on the corner of 9th Street and Walton Way a source of pride for Augusta.
“We have finally moved into the 21st century in running the courts,” he said.
The dawn of a new era requires the sunset of another, and that’s seen the most in the law library on the second floor. The digital age was already antiquating the library but the move into the new building forced the destruction of more than 70,000 volumes of books.
Court personnel began moving into the new building April 11, 2011, around the time commissioners agreed to name the courthouse after the late John H. Ruffin Jr. He was the judicial circuit’s first black Superior Court judge and went on to become the first black chief judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Just as the dust settled on the name issue, commissioners were again at an impasse over the city’s charter, which requires commissioners to meet at the county courthouse. Overstreet eventually settled the issue by designating the Municipal Building as an alternate site for commission meetings.
Even the dedication of the building couldn’t escape controversy; some community leaders opposed the choice of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as the guest speaker because they said his judicial philosophies oppose Ruffin’s.