Originally created 08/08/99

DA deserves new office



In 1993 the chairman of the County Commission's citizens' committee for space allocation met with new Augusta District Attorney Danny Craig after surveying the one-time bordello at 551 Greene Street serving as the DA'stemporary office. Craig recalls then-chairman Bill Kuhlke emphasizing that a new administration building for the DA and his staff "is the most pressing need" and that action would occur "within 18 months."

Well, the Augusta Commission (to which Kuhlke was later elected) has done absolutely nothing since then -- except to pay the idea lip service.

Why isn't Mayor Bob Young forcefully speaking out concerning this travesty?

Is there no one on the Commission who can motivate a majority of his colleagues to implement a specific plan to get a first-class home for Augusta's chief prosecutor and staff?

In recent years not one commissioner has bothered to tour the entire ramshackle, 1890s-era boarding house where actor Jim Nabors once stayed. What they'd witness is leaking water from the roof and walls, along with falling wet plaster, threatening vital evidence and court paperwork that seems to be stacked everywhere. They'd see five crude bathrooms for 35 employees. They'd watch personnel working long hours in cramped areas.

It's incredible to see people working in such conditions, yet witness such good morale. Indeed, many of the area's seedy drug dealers have better quarters than the prosecutors trying to put them behind bars!

Craig also can't go to the Commission to hire desperately needed new personnel because commissioners rightly say there's no place to put new employees. It's a classic Catch-22 situation. (Reflect on this anomaly: Savannah's DA, who serves 200,000 people in one county, has 34 assistants; Craig, who serves over 370,000 people in three counties, only has 14.)

As for security, imagine this: One well-placed Molotov cocktail hurled through a window of the wood-and-stucco building could conceivably, in the district attorney's words, "shut down the courts for a year."

While paperwork could eventually be reconstructed, Craig emphasizes that the physical evidence in countless paper boxes "couldn't be replicated." Old and new cases against murderers, rapists and other violent criminals could literally go up in smoke.

In fact, we have a tip for a fire marshal: If you inspect this firetrap, you'd have no alternative but to condemn it. Also, these fine officers of the court are ensconced in a building that is in blatant violation of Occupational Safety and Health Act standards and the American Disabilities Act. (Forget entering if you are handicapped.)

What is to be done? There are two courses of action:

Build a state-of-the-art downtown administrative building.

Make a first-class DA's office part of an overall judicial building.

The good news is that additional property can be acquired on the 500 block of Greene next to the present office, since the adjacent church is for sale. We believe it would be cheaper to construct a new headquarters on that property (with its ample parking) than to, say, move the DA's staff into the proposed Broad Street Davison's building location for government offices. Of course, it would be foolish to transfer Craig and his staff to any proposed Regency Mall site, since it moves them farther away from the Law Enforcement Center and downtown courtrooms.

But no matter what course of action is taken, commissioners must embark upon it quickly. A far too-patient DA is seeking justice, but is getting none.