Originally created 10/13/03

Judges, staff move into new federal courthouse



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- U.S. District Judge Matthew Perry only has one concern about his office at the new federal courthouse bearing his name - not enough bookcases for his vast legal library.

Perry, fellow judges and staff members have been lugging personal mementos to their new offices at the $38.3 million courthouse, which is set to open Tuesday.

"I think it's a handsome building," Perry said. "It's well designed and was planned for the convenience of the visiting public."

He has been a federal district court judge for 24 years and was a renowned civil rights lawyer for years before that. Asked what it's like to work in a courthouse that bears his name, the 82-year-old jurist said, "I never thought that I would live to see this kind of thing happening to me. I'm delighted and pleased."

The new 208,000-square-foot building is more than twice as large as the old one at the Strom Thurmond complex a block away.

"We were so close in the old building that when someone sneezed, we all got the flu," said deputy clerk of court Stella Donelan. "We have some breathing room. I love it."

The clerk's office shares the first floor with the U.S. Marshal's office. Marshals are responsible for the building's security.

Space in the clerk's office for attorneys and others who want to see court documents is about five times larger than it was in the old courthouse, clerk of court Larry Propes said.

He thinks jurors will like the creature comforts, such as overstuffed chairs in large deliberation rooms and improved security.

Prisoners will be kept in segregated passageways and in more holding cells to keep them farther from the public and staff members.

"It's more functional, better equipped," Propes said. "I like that we've been able to design this from the ground up. It's not ostentatious."

South Carolina's chief federal judge is looking forward to high-tech gadgets and modern amenities.

Three of the eight courtrooms are fully electronic. Each juror will have a 15-inch, color computer monitor for simultaneous viewing of documents used in evidence.

In a conventional courtroom, documents are handed by attorneys to the judge, his staff and then from juror to juror.

"In a three-week trial, you can shave off two or three days just in shuffling paper," Chief Judge Joe Anderson said.

Witness stands and lawyers' podiums are height-adjustable at the push of a button in all courtrooms. That's especially helpful for the handicapped.

The five remaining courtrooms are less high-tech but designed to be made fully electronic as money becomes available.

The courthouse still needs some finishing touches.

Landscaping is not done, the block has not been fenced and a statue of Perry is not on display yet.

The courthouse, which will feature a wrought-iron gate designed by Charleston blacksmith artist Philip Simmons, will be dedicated next spring.