Sylvia CooperCity Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

A new courthouse era upon us

  • Follow City Ink

Yogi Berra could have been talking about the Augusta Commission when he said, "It's like déjà vu all over again."

At the commission's legal administration committee meeting, Commissioner Bill Lockett asked once again why commissioners couldn't just vote to strike "at the courthouse" from an ordinance that would allow them to continue to meet at the Municipal Building without the part authorizing them to pass resolutions designating the administrator's duties.

And City Attorney Andrew MacKenzie and City Administrator Fred Russell explained once again that the part about the administrator's duties had been in effect since 1980, and that all they'd be doing now was striking the words "at the courthouse" from the ordinance.

Lockett wasn't buying it. He said the proposal the attorney had given them was a charter change that required a two-thirds vote.

"But also included in that charter change is giving this body authorization to create resolutions detailing the administrator's duties," he said. "The resolution requires six votes. So we're going to vote on the charter change which requires eight votes to give this body the authority to give the administrator whatever duties they want with six votes. And that's what we've been fighting the last month."

Then Lockett announced he would not vote for any ordinance proposed concerning the government's ongoing reorganization until a judge ruled on the legality of the commission's recent votes on it and the administrator's enhanced powers.

Lockett suggested that MacKenzie was influencing the outcomes of the ordinances through his rulings as commission parliamentarian and legal counsel.

"A professional who can render advice and opinions without having an interest in the outcome. That is the definition of a parliamentarian," he said, adding that was the way he liked to see it but it seemed that 99.44 percent of the decisions have been in opposition to what he was trying to get.

"Now, are you doing this as a parliamentarian?" he asked MacKenzie. "Are you ... using your legalese to come up with the result that you or others may want?"

MacKenzie didn't say yes, and he didn't say no. What I think he said was if there was some kind of conflict "on the parliamentarian procedure" he'd have to look at it.

Then Lockett chastised Russell, who'd just briefed the finance committee on the city's quarterly financial report, for not giving them the report earlier so they'd have time to study it.

So, I sat at my keyboard Friday wondering just how many times I could write the same story without going bonkers.

DIVINE INTERVENTION: Then the phone rang. It was the honorable Superior Court Judge Jim Blanchard .

I'd e-mailed him a few weeks ago after reading he'd presided over the last trial in the Greene Street courthouse. I wanted to know whether he knew who presided over the first one. When he called, he said he'd asked Richmond County Clerk of Court Elaine Johnson to do some research and now possessed copies of historical court documents going all the way back to the first one filed in Richmond County on March 27, 1787. Within a few hours, after trips to the Columbia County Courthouse and the new courthouse in Augusta, I held more court history in my hands than you could shake a gavel at.

While at the Augusta courthouse, over the front entrance spelled out in large letters, I saw "John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse" and learned that Richmond County State Court Judge David Watkins had moved into the new facility. You will recall, Watkins had said, after seeing Ruffin's name on a standalone sign outside and not on the building, he would not move into it because it was an insult to the renowned black jurist.

HELL NO, I WON'T GO: Well, as it turned out, Watkins isn't the only Richmond County court official who ever balked at moving into a new courthouse. Right there on top of the documents was an Oct. 18, 1957, article from The Augusta Chronicle , published after the 1821 courthouse closed.

"The refusal of Superior Court Clerk Dan O'Connor to move his offices from the old courthouse to the new City-County Bldg., has the Commission in a quandary,

"Among other things, the Commission wants to save a fancy rent by shifting the probation office from a commercial site at 126 Seventh St. to the suite now occupied by Mr. O'Connor.

"And the county cannot pay the firm outfitting the clerk's plush new offices until he moves in and the expensive furnishings have been placed in position.

Therefore, the Commission reluctantly has ordered the county attorney to take legal action in an attempt to force Mr. O'Connor to vacate the old building, now deserted except for his office."

The next day, The Chronicle reported "O'Connor agrees to move offices from courthouse"

"Moving of equipment of Superior Court Clerk Dan O'Connor from the old courthouse to the City-County Bldg. will begin Monday morning. Henry W. Poteet, chairman of the County Commission, said Friday night.

"Contemplated legal action by county attorney to force O'Connor to move was thus averted by the amicable agreement."

The articles didn't say why O'Connor didn't want to move. Johnson said if anyone would know it would be former Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. , but the judge said the only thing he ever heard is that O'Connor said he was happy where he was.

PICTURE THIS: On Nov. 17, 1957, a few weeks before the building was dedicated, The Chronicle devoted an entire page with photos and an article headlined "Is plush building too lavish for city?" Above the headline was this caption: "Or is it too small?"

There is a photo of City Judge Gordon W. Chambers at his desk. Another shows Sheriff Henry W. Hartley and deputies C.A. Young , J.C. Dinkins and W.L. Hamilton in the Municipal Courtroom. In another Bernard F. Martin and Carol Ford turn out copies of real estate transactions in the Photostat room "one of many special features in new building." And Mrs. Emma Fuller , secretary to a long line of mayors, is pictured delivering mail to the mayor's desk. Beneath the photo is this description: The mayor's office, on eighth floor of Government Building, is cypress paneled, modernisticaly furnished in blue and brown tones.

FIRST AND LAST: Monday, Sept. 16, 1957, the first grand jury was sworn in with Superior Court Judges F. Frederick Kennedy and G.C. Anderson presiding.

Grand jurors were Clayton P. Boardman Jr., W.H. McDaniel, W.J. Branan, Ronald E. Corbitt, George T. Skinner, John H. Scharnitsky, H. Parks Hendee, Maxwell Hill, J.V. Cranford, George R. Sibley Jr., Noble A. Hull, Homer C. Day, Irvin J. Daitch, J. Milo Hatch, F.L. Lancaster, Sam Strauss, Theo M. Reid, Paschal T. Wilson, R.C. Beattie, Alex Windsor, Chas. V. Brega, Russell K. Whaley Jr. and Robt. S. Woodhurst Jr.

The first criminal trial in the new building featured The State vs. Herman Stallings indicted on three counts of larceny from the house over $50. Fleming was Stallings' attorney. The jury found Stallings guilty of two counts of larceny from the house over $50 and one count of guilty of larceny from the house of less than $50. W.S. Lanier was foreman of the jury.

The first civil jury trial was Catherine Tutt vs. Eugene Tutt , et al. The jury awarded Catherine Tutt $969.95. Albert J. Rosenthal was foreman.

The first domestic jury trial was Jeannette W. Pinion vs. Charles Pinion . The jury found sufficient proof to grant Charles Pinion a divorce on his crossaction. Rosenthal was foreman.

In the last criminal trial in the Greene Street courthouse Adrian Edward Pressley was found guilty of two counts of cruelty to children in the second degree and sentenced to 10 years in prison on each count. Judge Blanchard presided.

The last civil trial there was the Department of Transportation vs. Waffle House Inc. The verdict favored Waffle House to the tune of $500,000. Judge Sheryl B. Jolly presided.

City Ink thanks Judge Jim Blanchard, Richmond County Clerk of Court Elaine Johnson and clerk's office Operations Manager Peggy Carroll for their contributions this week .

Comments (8) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
404Law 05/15/11 - 01:56 am
Hmm...Why is "spectacle"

Hmm...Why is "spectacle" becoming part of the job description for MacKenzie? I continue to lose confidence in his ability to effectively counsel.

There's entirely too much leakage into the public forum. Deke needs to step up and mediate. I'm beginning to wonder whether they're all intimidated (in every sense of the word) by a certain commissioner. Seriously.

Asitisinaug 05/15/11 - 03:46 am

This city is GREATLY LACKING true leadership from our mayor and commission. Get it together boys as Augusta is a joke read round the world.

Riverman1 05/15/11 - 07:20 am
404Law, give us a hint as to

404Law, give us a hint as to which commissioner is the intimidator.

I kind of feel sorry for Fred Russell trying to be an administrator around this crowd. He hardly has enough time to keep up with the business he runs on the side.

Can someone take the dictionary away from Lockett so he can't find another big word like parliamentarian to use. He overdoes it a bit.

As far as our Superman-like, strong, charismatic, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, intimidating, omnipotent, omniscientific (can I stop now?) Mayor providing leadership....Good luck with that.

If the Commission does meet at the Ruff House, I don't see how they can avoid being arrested for loitering as long as their irrelevant meetings go on.

TruthJusticeFaithHope 05/15/11 - 07:47 am
I don't believe that Fred

I don't believe that Fred Russell is that good of an administrator. And, if you are considering extending an employees' responsibilities and power, he or she should be exemplary and superior in performance and command of the field of practice which they are engaged in. Help me list the screw ups and financial mistakes that Russell has made... because I have to rely on my memory. The Ruffin sign mistake, the payout to the previous Legal Counsel employee, the various employee mistakes and craziness, including hiring felons, paying for gastric bypass procedures, etc. Russell is not the worst administrator ever, but he is not one which I would invest additional powers in.

wondersnevercease 05/15/11 - 07:52 am
Remember the old

Remember the old sitcom...Carter Country?....

pimpernell 05/15/11 - 12:36 pm
What is it these clowns

What is it these clowns really want? Apartheid in reverse? An all Black City State? Rwanda? Burundi? A postgraduate thesis in Advanced Racism 343?
I have a dream too! It's about elected officials getting down to business and working to build a community where EVERYONE will benefit and not be ashamed to have the world know they live in AUGUSTA . Where officials vote is not as important as how (no abstentions- no walkouts) they vote. People should not be surprised to feel the public is prejudiced against you if your behavior is such that anyone with a brain would abhor that kind of behavior.

Brad Owens
Brad Owens 05/15/11 - 06:40 pm
pimpernell, Rwanda is amazing


Rwanda is amazing and very progressive if truth be known, I spent some time there and it is wide open for business and the government there is the most progressive and well managed I have seen in all of Africa. Also Burundi is pretty small with almost no other ethnic groups and a small Muslim population from India, I have been there too and helped start a contract.

Use Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) where Mugabe has driven out all whites and destroyed his economy over race and power, or Uganda when Idi Amin drove all the East Indians/Asians out as examples.



P.S. I agree with you 100% on the rest of you posting

HTN007 05/16/11 - 02:10 am
"It's like déjà vu all over

"It's like déjà vu all over again."..................or, "SSDD".

AutumnLeaves 05/16/11 - 01:17 pm
A few years ago, I sat

A few years ago, I sat quietly, unnoticed, at a local senior center as the elderly women discussed how it would be soon that they would reach their vision for all of Richmond County. They were looking forward to the entire county being on welfare in reparation for the historical wrongs by white slave owners and sellers and they didn't care who was paying for it. If they were speaking sarcastically, it wasn't evident. Just to be clear, the elderly women were all black and some quite well-heeled financially. It seemed to me that they were more than content for some of their black descendants to be on welfare, even if some of their own taxes were paying for it. I wondered if they had a prejudice that all, or at least most, of the welfare recipients are black and other minority. That might be the case in Richmond County, but I don't know that for a fact.

Back to Top
Search Augusta jobs