Judges, D.A. staff differ how to divvy up floor space after Jury’s gone

By: Paul Kedinger

Architect Paul LaMaire quickly discovered Thursday morning that his drawings to reassign office and courtroom space on the third and fourth floors of the courthouse had to be scrapped after listening to requests from district judges, the district attorney and his staff.

At one point, the Lafayette architect emphasize there had to be “give and take” on how to reorganize the courthouse offices.

Judges Kristian Earles and Glennon Everett asked that the 15th district court judges and their staff be consolidated on the third floor after the Police Jury’s administrative offices move into newly renovated offices in the former parish jail on the Courthouse Square.

And though District Attorney Mike Harson said, “Personally, I could go anywhere,” he did admit moving his staff to the fourth floor “would put a lot of stress on the staff.”

A member of Harson’s staff pointed out the district attorney’s office lacks adequate storage space now and coming to and from the fourth floor with court case files would be physically demanding. She also cited inadequate office space for assistant district attorneys and the issue of security for the district attorneys and office staff.

Shifting the district attorney’s offices to the fourth floor are complicated by the fact the sole access is by elevator or stairs and there are no provisions for fire escapes. Judge Earles admitted the fire marshal would have to approve any changes to the fourth floor.

Judge Earles and Everett indicated consolidating the district judges and their workers would improve courtroom security and permit the pooling of a central staff. Judge Earles pointed out staffers are dispersed in various offices, with each office required to have copying facilities.

Currently, Judge John Trahan’s office is located on the second floor of the courthouse, and Earles’ office and a fourth courtroom, as well as some smaller offices and public waiting area are on the fourth floor. Judge Everett’s office is on third floor next to a smaller courtroom opposite the Police Jury’s meeting room. An office for a visiting judge is located behind the large third floor courtroom across from the current district attorney’s office.

If the staff and judge were all centrally located on the third floor, Earles said, “We could share the same resources.”

Architect LeMaire also mentioned the Louisiana attorney general is studying security mandates for all state courts.

Increased courthouse security measures were recently imposed, forcing the public to pass through a metal detector at only the front entrance under the eye of a sheriff’s deputy. Courthouse workers are required to carry identification badges and use coded swipe cards to access the courthouse through other entrances.

Securing prisoners before and after their appearance in court was also discussed, with the sheriff preferring a “sound, safe place” to separate the inmates from the general public. On that point, Jury-Secretary Terry Lacombe reported a second elevator was being repaired in order to move prisoners under guard from the courthouse’s back entrance to the third floor.

Judges Everett and Earles also suggested the current Jury meeting room could be partitioned into a courtroom. Lacombe added the Jury could use the large courtroom on the third floor for its committee and monthly meetings.

After hearing the various suggestions, architect LaMaire said he would calculate the square footage available, take pictures and update his office drawings.

Following the meeting, LaMaire said the revisions are compounded by the absence of any original construction plans or drawing for the courthouse to guide the revisions.

No plans were presented regarding the future use of space on the courthouse’s first and second floor.

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