Jefferson opens court annex

January 20, 2000

Court AnnexBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Magistrate Gail Viands-Boober jokes that she is so used to the sewer pipe that runs through the ceiling of the old magistrate courtroom that it will be hard to forget her often repeated advice to anyone testifying in her hearings.

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"Watch your head and be seated," Viands-Boober told witnesses at they took the stand.

Toilets could be heard flushing during hearings and parties involved in disagreements often had to stand face-to-face in the hallways of the building because there was no room to separate them.

On Thursday, Viands-Boober and the county's two other magistrates were given the keys to a new court complex.

The $3.5 million court complex offers the latest in courthouse design and security, including 37 cameras that can be manually controlled to observe hallways and courtrooms.


Special efforts have been made to keep magistrates, family law masters and other court personnel separate from public access, and inmates being brought to the building for hearings will use a separate elevator at the rear of the building.

Desks are equipped with panic alarms that are wired to 911 and the Charles Town Police Department, and bullet-proof glass surrounds offices on the first floor.

People wanting to see magistrates about a problem won't be able to just stroll into their offices. They will have to speak into a device that projects a video image of the person to a magistrate assistant seated in another office.

Viands-Boober said the video communication system is vital for security. She recalled an incident in which an ex-convict came into her office and lunged for her throat.

"I've been waiting a long time for this," Viands-Boober said.

The court annex was designed by First Charles Town Group, a corporation made up of Charles Town attorney Peter Chakmakian and partner Richard Weese.

The Jefferson County Commissioners had been considering building a new courthouse annex that would surround the existing Jefferson County Courthouse at the corner of George and Washington streets. But the commissioners were concerned that there was not enough public support for a $6.5 million bond issue that would have been needed to build the complex, said former Commissioner Greg Lance, who was in office when the deal with First Charles Town Group was made.

First Charles Town Group proposed converting the St. Margaret's building it owned across the street from the Jefferson County Courthouse into a magistrate court and leasing it to the county.

First Charles Town Group worked a little over two years converting the building and expanded it by about 21,000 square feet, according to Chakmakian.

Under the agreement, the county will lease the court annex for $26,500 a month with the option to buy it, Chakmakian said.

In addition to magistrates offices and courtrooms, the building will house the Jefferson County Prosecutor's office, circuit clerks office, probation office and the family law master's office.

About 50 people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the building Thursday afternoon and toured the annex.

"I think we got what we bargained for," said Jefferson County Commission President James G. Knode.

The building is richly decorated with stained oak woodwork, recessed lighting and chandeliers.

"(Chakmakian) has got a real flair about him," said Circuit Court Judge David Sanders as he walked through the building.

When asked why he made the extra effort to make the building attractive, Chakmakian said any building for public use "ought to have a certain reverence, especially a courtroom."

Magistrates and other court personnel are expected to move into the building today, and it will formally open on Monday.

It is not known what the old magistrate court building, located at George and Congress streets, will be used for, county officials said.

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