District courthouse in Westminster has high-tech features


On the outside, the brick is a match for the exterior of the old courthouse next door.

Inside, the most striking old-style touch is the richness of the red-brown cherry wood that makes up the judge's benches and courtroom doors.

But while its wood and brick whisper Westminster's history, the new District Court building - the first public building to be constructed in the historic part of Westminster in years - shouts high-tech.

The $7 million building, scheduled to open today, features an X-ray machine and metal detector at its entrance and an audio system and television screens for video bail-review hearings in its two courtrooms.

"The whole room is wired," said Yvonne Davis, criminal-traffic supervisor for the Carroll District Court's clerk's office, while touring a courtroom last week.

The new building on North Court Street is across Greenwood Avenue from the court's long-leased space in the county's Courthouse Annex.

Friday was moving day for the court, which handles matters small and large, from traffic tickets and neighborhood spats, to domestic violence and bail hearings in murder cases. The scene could be described as organized chaos.

The first offices to move - the two District Court judges, the court clerks' office and the court commissioners - began packing in earnest Friday morning, when large metal carts and dozens of cardboard file boxes filled desks, counters and hallways.

District Judge Marc G. Rasinsky said he found his law books packed when he stepped off the bench during the morning docket. The court commissioner was set up at a satellite office down the street at the jail because the commissioners' courthouse office was being cleared out.

For a walk-through of the building last week, Administrative Judge JoAnn M. Ellinghaus-Jones gathered with Davis and Nancy E. Mueller, the administrative clerk for District 10, Howard and Carroll counties. Sunlight streamed into the entranceway from tall cupola windows above.

In Courtroom Two, Ellinghaus-Jones "test drove" her new chair, practicing a boarding-house reach along the expanse of the bench where she will preside.

Two large television monitors peered from the wall, ready to be used as part of the county's new video bail-review system. Prisoners will remain across the street and down the block at the Carroll County Detention Center, rather than being transported to court from the jail.

The courtroom also has headsets for the hearing-impaired, Davis said.

Another electronic feature is a small red light that flashes on the clerk's desk to signal that the recording and backup system is not on.

The recording system will replace one that produced transcripts in which, the judge said, "every other word is 'inaudible.'"

In the public restrooms, the men's room includes changing tables - reflecting changing times as more single fathers go to court, they said.

The courthouse has several waiting rooms and meeting rooms, but has been designed so those can be combined and reconfigured to provide two additional courtrooms. But state projections show no new judges will be needed before 2025, Mueller said.

Ellinghaus-Jones opened a door to a room on the second floor, above the entranceway, to show "the coolest thing in the building. I'm having Thanksgiving here." At each end of a long conference table, round windows filled the meeting room with light.

The contractor finished about a month ahead of schedule, said William Amberman, project manager.

Other agencies, including the public defender, and juvenile justice, are to move into the building this month.

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