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Court complex judged a success

The County Court Annex was not, say those who worked there, the ideal place for a courtroom. For one thing, it was a good block-long hike across East Jefferson Street from the main courthouse building. And then, there was that problem with the post.

"Right in front of the judge," recalled former County Judge Edwin Malmquist, who said the large, oddly positioned support beam forced him to crane his neck to one side or the other to talk to attorneys.

This week, however, the county court _ minus the post _ the two circuit courts and several other departments will move into the freshly completed Hernando County Government Center, and virtually everyone is cheering.

"It will make things considerably easier," said Clerk of Circuit Court Karen Nicolai.

The administrative wing of the $7.6-million complex, designed by architect Sanford Goldman, was completed in October 1988, and it houses county government offices and the county commissioners' chambers.

The judicial wing is slated to open on Tuesday, and throughout the long weekend workers have been busy hauling desks, files and potted plants into the spacious new brick complex, the exterior of which is covered with large plates of blue-tinted glass.

An atrium separates the judicial wing from the administrative wing, and Nicolai said that within a year a walkway should connect the entire Government Center with the adjacent 19th-century County Courthouse building.

"My computer people were in there today, and the phone guys come in tomorrow to finish up," Nicolai said.

"We'll be opened for business on Tuesday," she said.

On Sunday, glazier Fred Rupert of Spring Hill was perched on a boom 50 feet above his truck, applying some final touches of caulking to the seams where the tinted glass panels meet the building's bracing. The patented color was mixed especially for the center, Rupert said.

The sharp angles and sloping surfaces of the judicial complex make it difficult to clean, and Rupert and painter Gary DeMint both gave the building mixed reviews.

"It's designed to look good," DeMint conceded.

"But we've had people come in here and say, 'How are we going to clean this thing?'

"

Although the judicial wing has four stories, only three will be used, with the fourth available for expansion.

Three judges' chambers, two courtrooms and a jury assembly room will be on the third floor.

Court clerks, the finance department and the clerks' computer room will occupy the second floor, while the first floor will house the chambers for one circuit court judge and a large courtroom big enough "for a good one hundred people," Nicolai said.

Also on the first floor are offices for the county clerks, where marriage certificates and passports are obtained and misdemeanor and traffic fines paid.

A fourth courtroom in the old courthouse building will be used for visiting circuit court judges, she said.

Nicolai said the new, larger jury assembly room will save both time and money because jurors could be chosen for more than one trial at a time.

"Now when we call them for jury duty we keep them on call for the entire week," she said, adding that with the new system, jurors could know their schedule for the whole week by the end of the first day.

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