Daviess County Fiscal Court voted in approval on Tuesday to have Lanham Brothers General Construction renovate the old library on the third floor of the Morton J. Holbrook Judicial Center and convert it into a new courtroom for Family Court. Currently, two Family Court judges are utilizing one courtroom for Family Court proceedings.
Of the four companies who placed bids to perform the construction, Lanham Brothers placed the lowest bid at $603,290. According to a Bid Evaluation Report, other bids placed included Wehr Constructors at $784,757, Danco Construction at $694,000 and Q&S Enterprises at $619,450.
The evaluation report also says Daviess County Fiscal Court will be reimbursed in the fall by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) for this project.
The report states that the date of substantial completion must occur 166 days, or about five and-a-half months, from the notice to proceed. The date of final completion is 196 days from the notice to the proceed. After receiving approval from Fiscal Court, Lanham Brothers now has 166 days to complete the bulk of the courtroom project.
Judge Julie Hawes Gordon was sworn in as Daviess County’s first Family Court judge in 2016, but Gordon has been recently joined by District Court Judge John McCarty who primarily presides over districts that include Hancock County, Ohio County, Butler County and Edmonson County. Since 2018, McCarty has been serving temporarily as a Family Court judge for Daviess County because of the heavy caseload that’s been presented to Family Court.
Funding for the additional Family Court judge comes from the AOC, and County Attorney Claud Porter says the money is there to pay for McCarty’s tenure in Daviess Family Court for at least four years.
“That budget is already there,” Porter said.
The budget for a new Family Court judge in Daviess County will come from AOC asking legislation to move Hancock County into the sixth circuit that Daviess County resides in. By doing this, Porter said they attempt to re-allocate judges so that they’re closer to the same number of cases.
“Because the ones in Ohio, Butler, Edmonson and Hancock have a large caseload,” Porter said. “The district judges here may have a lesser, and so that would allow them to share a number of cases and there’s only one district judge over there now, so they would have two.”
In an attempt to balance the increasing number of caseloads Family Court has seen, plans for modification are expected to lighten the load on certain judges and even the scales across the board. Moving judges from one district to another is something Porter expects to see in the near future
“We are not the highest caseload as far as Family Court, but we are within the top five or six [in the state] and because we are in the top five or six caseloads, they do a weighted caseload, or a weighted averaging, and the last I saw, we were somewhere between four and seven,” Porter said. “So they are making other modifications and moving judges from one district to another to try and accommodate all those in the higher level so that they can reduce those and make them more equitable.”
County Engineer Mark Brasher said many of the judicial center’s most recent renovations have been made to make more room for those the judicial center serves, as well as for the staff who works there.
“There was a space issue. Multiple things have been done to correct that. We are displacing Drug Court and will be moving that into the annex, all to keep the congestion down,” Brasher said. “With the emergence of Family Court, we’re going to build a courtroom, put Julie Gordon in it. What is going on right now is the renovation of the waiting room area, and this project is to renovate the second courtroom.”
Current renovations at the judicial center began in January, and will include a children’s area in the waiting room as well as restroom expansions for courthouse employees. A second exit will also be installed in the waiting area. Renovations are almost complete and a bid evaluation report shows those construction costs totaled $52,475 in the lowest bid from Lanham Brothers.
As for the new Family Court courtroom, Brasher said it’s been a long time coming.
“We opened the bid for the first courtroom in early 2017, and that drug out for a while,” Brasher said. “We are hoping that this will have completion in 196 days from notice to proceed — after that, we will incur liquidated damages.”