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U.S. District courtroom in Martinsburg renovated

October 19, 2000

U.S. District courtroom in Martinsburg renovated



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The words of John F. Kennedy are among the most striking new features at the newly renovated courtroom in the U.S. District Courthouse on King Street, first dedicated when Kennedy was president in 1961.

His words wrap the entire courtroom just below the ceiling: "When Responsibility Is Pressed Heavily On Anyone To Make A Judgment, It Seems To Me Useful To Have As Close An Understanding Of The View Of Both Sides As Possible."

The building will soon become a high-tech center for the dispensing of federal justice in the Eastern Panhandle.

"It's traditional, but with a modern touch," said U.S. District Court Judge Craig Broadwater, who will use the courtroom, the only one in the building. The old courtroom "had a real 1950s feel," said Broadwater.

The new room will have a millennial feel.

Two jurors will share one computer screen in the jury box. A screen can be automatically raised or lowered to show exhibits, which will be displayed with the latest technology to avoid handling of many exhibits.

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"We'll be able to zip through exhibits one after the other," Broadwater said.

Lawyers will be able to see transcriptions of what has been said in "real time"- giving them the ability to absorb testimony as it occurs.

The courtroom will be equipped with four television cameras. Eventually, court hearings can be held with witnesses testifying from other locations - and they will still be able to see what is going on in the courtroom. New speakers will help spectators hear better. The courtroom has been built to accommodate the handicapped. A big screen computer monitor will be installed for spectators.

"It's just in keeping with the way everything is moving," Broadwater said. "The technology is not expensive any more, it's reasonable."

"We're designing for technology we don't even have yet," said Matthew Grove of the architectural firm Grove & Dall'Olio. The firm worked with general contractor S.W. Day and mechanical and engineering consultants HDM Associates, Inc. to make the 40-year old courtroom come alive.

"It was what you call a modern interior with very few lines in it," Grove said.

The firm chose red oak to blend with the interior of the judge's chamber that had already been re-done. The woodwork includes the law clerk's bench, jury stand and rail, spectator rail, wainscoting, doors and frames. In addition to the "frieze" - the wraparound words of Kennedy - there will be "pilasters" - columns built into the wall, pendant light features and "ribbed back" spectator benches made of wood.

"We really wanted the courtroom to have all the comfort you had in some of the early, more traditional designs," Grove said.

Martinsburg attorney Richard Douglas has practiced in the old courtroom since 1969.

"It was modern then by any and all standards," he said. "It had air conditioning, good acoustics and was much better than the state courtrooms. It was pretty up town. We all liked to go there and practice there."

But he likes the looks of this new courtroom and all its technological advances.

"This is going to have everything you need," he said. "Being an effective lawyer in a courtroom - the key is to show and tell. Here you'll be able to show and concentrate on the telling."

The courtroom is part of a larger overhaul of the building. Other phases have included the new judge's chamber and law library and work is nearly done on holding cells and other facilities for the U.S. Marshal's Office. Eventually, a new Magistrate and Bankruptcy Court will be on the site of the former Post Office.

Total cost of the renovation is about $600,000. The first citizenship ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 13.

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