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Posted: February 21, 2009 6:14 p.m.

Judicial Center building fence

Newton County began construction Monday on an approximately $220,000 fenced-off parking area at the Newton County Judicial Center. The 20-parking space area is being built to ensure the safety of judges, the district attorney and other courtroom officials, County Engineer Kevin Walter said.

Courthouses naturally breed conflict and when a person, himself, or a family member is convicted of a crime, passions run high, Judge Samuel Ozburn said. Judges park next to the building which puts them directly in the path of litigants and family members entering and exiting the courthouse.

Although no judges have been harmed, uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations have arisen. More than a year ago the judges asked the county build the secure parking area and the county agreed, Ozburn said.

"We didn't want to wait until something bad happened," he said. "We're being proactive."

Judge Horace Johnson Jr. said the high-profile courthouse shootings in Atlanta in 2005, placed the topic of courthouse security into the local consciousness. In March 2005 Brian Nichols shot and killed a judge, a court reporter and a deputy at the Fulton County Courthouse. Nichols was going to be tried on rape charges the following week.

The county is hoping this new parking area will prevent conflict and keep both courtroom officials and the public safe.

The fence will be made of aluminum and will be 8-feet high. In the future, the courthouse may need to be expanded, so the parking area is being designed to allow any future expansions to wrap around the parking area. Construction is expected to take between three and four months.

Hunter Ave. Converted to a One-Way Street
Because of the judicial center construction Hunter Avenue will be temporarily converted to a one-way southbound street between Stallings and Usher Streets. The north side driveway of the center will be temporarily blocked, preventing access to handicapped spots. Four new handicapped parallel parking spots and three spots for law enforcement vehicles will be painted on the east side of Hunter Avenue. Once the construction is completed, the city will decide whether they want to keep Hunter Avenue a one-way street or return it to a two-way street.

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