Have you ever walked into a building, looked around, and said, “Wow!” I did when I walked into the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in downtown Charlotte. The nine-story building was completed in 2007 at a cost of $148 million. The artwork and detail inside and out are impressive. Once you get past security, you walk into a spacious atrium where a sculptor hangs down with 3200 tiny sculpted heads suspended on cables.
The Sheriff’s Office Citizens’ Academy took a tour of the courthouse on Tuesday night hosted by Captain Charles Yongue and Corporal Mitchell. It was obvious to us that both men take great pride in their workplace and their jobs, and they should. The courthouse runs like a well-oiled machine where five to six thousand people go through its door every weekday. Like everyone who walks in, we had to get passed security. Cpl. Mitchell showed us a case full of contraband that had been confiscated. We saw weapons hidden inside a pen light, lipstick case, walking cane, ink pen, cell phone, and many other household objects. It was amazing what people try to bring inside. Maybe I’m twisted, but it takes creativity to think of this stuff!
We were led into Courtroom 1150 where Cpl. Mitchell said, “All rise. Court is now in session with the Honorable Judge Theo Nixon presiding.” Of course, with Mitchell’s commanding voice, we all stood up and waited for Judge Nixon to take his seat at the bench. Judge Nixon was gracious enough to tell us about the court system and the function of the court. He gave us copies of the Misdemeanor and Felony Punishment Chart with the new laws passed by the State Legislature effective October 1, 2013. Courtroom 1150 is where defendants make their first appearance. It is usually to set bail. Many times the proceedings take place via video where there is a screen in the courtroom for the judge and a monitor in the jail for the defendant. In one afternoon, the judge may preside over 250 cases. Next door in Courtroom 1130 where traffic cases are heard, it is not uncommon to handle up to one thousand cases in a single day.
One of our favorite parts of our tour was going up to the ninth floor where many citizens are prohibited. It houses the offices of the judges, their clerical staff, and the law library. As you can imagine, security is very tight on this floor.
We learned that great pains have been taken to make jury duty a pleasant experience. Even daycare is offered for those who cannot find care elsewhere. There is a movie room with popcorn, Wi-Fi for computers, lounge, snacks, and a terrace overlooking the city. A pretty nice set-up if you ask me.
The different types of court proceedings handled in the facility is mind-boggling. Not only are there district, superior, and small claims courts, but also specialty courts such as domestic violence, child support, drug treatment, environmental, and family court.
At the end of our tour, we took the tunnel built under Fourth Street that connects the courthouse with the county jail. Prisoners are escorted via this route to appear in court. We saw holding cells where they are housed until they are called. It was a great experience to learn about our local justice system and to walk the corridors of this beautiful building.
And one more thing…..As we first walked inside, a wreath had been placed in remembrance of Captain Anthony Stancil. His life was taken in the line of duty on September 29, 1998. The men and women of the Sheriff’s Office have never forgotten his bravery and sacrifice.
The Mecklenburg County Courthouse does Lady Justice proud.
“Wooden Judge Gavel” photo courtesy of Kittisak