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Judge happy despite some disorder in new court wing

Criminal justice in Hernando County came hurtling out of the early 20th century and entered the 1990s Tuesday with a few minor glitches, but overall the reviews were favorable. The judicial wing of the $7.6-million County Government Center opened Tuesday after clerks, bailiffs, judges and professional movers spent the long Presidents Day weekend hauling books and files from the courthouse next door, which cost just $42,150 to build in 1912.

Hard benches have been replaced by padded seats and stuffy, poorly ventilated courtrooms have disappeared in favor of air-conditioned, acoustically perfect rooms.

"It's fantastic," Circuit Judge Jack Springstead said. "You can hear everything in there, the room looks nice and it is working out very well."

Not everything is perfect. New chairs in Springstead's courtroom still don't have wheels.

And the defense and prosecution tables had to be moved out of the well area in front of the judge's bench and into the audience Tuesday before a scheduled murder trial because a panel on the front of the defense table didn't hide the defendant's shackled ankles from potential jurors.

Jurors are not allowed to see a defendant in shackles during the course of a trial for fear that the sight would prejudice the verdict.

Additionally, construction is not complete on the building, forcing bailiffs and deputies to remind construction workers not to hammer or use power tools while motions were being heard in James Austin's case Tuesday.

Sanford Goldman, the Brooksville architect who designed the building and oversaw its construction, said he expected the minor details that remain to be worked out within a month.

"There's just a lot of rough edges on the building," Goldman said. "I don't see anything that will stand in the contractor's way of having the building completed within a month."

Some of those rough edges will need some substantial polishing to satisfy County Commissioner John Richardson, who said at the County Commission meeting Tuesday that he thinks the contractor should be forced to replace brown carpeting on the walls on the top three floors of the courthouse.

The brown carpeting clashes with the gray carpeting on the floors, Richardson said.

"You wouldn't accept that in your home," he said. "We're going to be in that building for a long time."

Commissioner June Ester concurred:

"That carpet is ugg-gly," Ester said.

Also Tuesday, commissioners voted to spend $27,000 to boost security in the new building by purchasing an X-ray machine. The county already owns one machine, which is used to examine packages and purses outside the current courthouse.

The new machine will be used for the same purpose at one of the two courthouse entrances in the new building. The current X-ray machine will be moved to the other entrance.

_ Staff writers Sally Hicks and Ken Zapinski contributed to this report.

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