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Benches removed at judge's request

August 08, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III took a new approach to the bench a few weeks ago when he decided to get involved in what he called his own "Hagerstown beautification project."

Two benches that had been in front of the Washington County Courthouse on West Washington Street were removed at Wright's request, according to County Administrator Rodney Shoop. One was moved to the Summit Avenue side of the courthouse. The other one disappeared altogether.

Wright said Thursday that the benches and the surrounding plaza had become "public nuisance sites" rather than fulfilling their intended use as a place for people to "stop and relax - temporarily."

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Wright said people had been sleeping on the benches overnight and sometimes still were sleeping there when courthouse employees reported for work in the morning.

People were falling asleep on the benches during the day as well, he said, and the benches were being used as a gathering place by people who were "just loitering and were obstructing the free passage of pedestrians" on the plaza.

There were complaints from courthouse employees and the public alike about rude remarks from people occupying the benches, Wright said, and "I felt there was a real need to throw out the bathwater with the baby, I suppose."

The last straw was the day Wright noticed that the back of one of the benches had been knocked out, he said, "and seven folks were using the other one as a gathering place and loitering."

Rather than having the county repair the damaged bench, Wright said he thought it was better just to remove them.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said the department did not receive a report of vandalism to the bench, but said the benches probably were removed because of loiterers.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said he has seen people on those benches in the evening, but hadn't heard any reports of loitering.

He said he wished the problem had been reported to the police department first, but he understood Wright's decision.

"Those benches are placed for the convenience of the public ..." Breichner said. "If they were harassing employees, it was being abused."




Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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