Are Russell Co. courthouse renovations affecting criminal cases?

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email | Twitter

RUSSELL COUNTY, AL (WTVM) -  Family court is being held in the old Alabama Power Building.

Traffic court is in the Old Meade Building.

Circuit Court is in the old library.

It's clear that the court system in Russell County is currently spread out all over Phenix City. That's because a major overhaul is about to get underway at the Judicial Center.

"Everybody was aware of the fact that we had mold in it, we had leaks in it. That's why we had to rework the roof," said County Commissioner Mervin Dudley.

But it was clear more needed to be done to bring the building up to par. Now a $6.3 million construction project is set to start in six weeks.

"One of our main tasks to solve on this project was to make the building safer for the judges and for the public and to keep the inmates separate. That's one of the big things on the addition- a sally port so when the inmates are brought in, they're in custody and behind closed doors from the second they arrive on site until they get to the courtroom. That's not exactly the case now," explained Scott Holmes, architect for Hecht Burdeshaw overseeing the project.

In the meantime, officials with the District Attorney's Office say there has not been a backlog of criminal cases. Trials are being held in the old library, right across the street from the Judicial Center.

"We have set that up as a temporary courtroom in which to hold jury trials. It is an adequate set up. It's not a perfect set up. It is temporary and we all know that. We haven't had to cancel trial terms," said Buster Landreau, Chief Deputy District Attorney.

And that is where a capital murder case will be heard in February for Clyde Friend- the man accused of stabbing a woman and leaving her to die along railroad tracks in Fort Mitchell.

A trial date has not been set for Lisa Graham, the women accused of hiring a man to kill her daughter Stephanie in 2007.

"There is no good time to do what we're doing. We had to take the opportunity available to us and everybody agreed that this was the time to do it. We hate to inconvenience our court system but what we're doing is necessary to improve the facility for all our constituents. We're going to have a complex up here that's going to be second to none," Dudley added.

Construction on the Russell County Judicial center is expected to be complete in January of 2012.

Architects say the work could be finished before then.

©2010 WTVM. All rights reserved.