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One year after construction, Augusta-Richmond County courthouse has changed area's judicial system

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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.

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The Richmond County Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse marks its first birthday this week.  ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/FILE
ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/FILE
The Richmond County Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse marks its first birthday this week.


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.

THE BACK STORY

AUGUSTA JUDICIAL CENTER

BACKGROUND: It took 15 years of political bickering and a taxpayer revolt before the Augusta Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse became a reality.

DEVELOPMENTS:

• Discussions for a new courthouse started Jan. 1, 1996, with the consolidation of Augusta and Richmond County, but it remained just talk for years. The price tag on the building bounced around from $18 million to $81 million, then down to about $67 million.

• Architects were hired in August 2002, even as discussions on where to locate the building ranged from the riverfront to the old Regency Mall area in South Augusta.

• The project hit a setback in 2004 when voters rejected $486 million in local option sales tax.

• Ground was broken at the lot on the corner of Walton Way and James Brown Boulevard on Dec. 17, 2008.

• Court personnel began moving in April 11, 2011.

• On May 18, 2011, Augusta-Richmond County Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse was dedicated by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

– From staff reports

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TrulyWorried
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TrulyWorried 05/14/12 - 03:12 pm
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New Courthouse

Now I sincerely hope that the surrounding area will be cleaned up and given a favorable appearance, at the present time the Courthouse looks like it was accidentally built in the wrong area - - - too much empty lots - run down buildings and lots and lots of weeds!!

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