Franklin County Courthouse

Franklin County is considering more purchases to ready the old courthouse to once again host jury trials.

At a workshop after their Tuesday meeting, commissioners discussed the requests from Circuit Court judges Craig Hellmann and David Hoven with the judges. Hellmann asked in March for jury trials to resume in the old courthouse because of a lack of room in the current judicial center.

Among the requests was the purchase of 17 acoustic wall panels and 10 ceiling panels from G&S Architectural Products of St. Louis for a total of $7,207.

The panels will impact the design of the historic courtroom in the 98-year-old building, which after the new judicial center was built was renovated to its former look with the help of a $100,000 donation from Sandra L. Stierberger, widow of attorney Edward A. Stierberger.

“We’re going to do that after we spent all that money to historically put it back into place?” Commissioner Todd Boland asked. 

“If you want it to function in a real way, we don’t have any choice,” Hellmann said.

“You’re going to get a lot of grief about ‘You spent all this money to redo the courthouse.’ I’m just making the point,” Boland said.

Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker asked if the county receives any funding for having a historic courthouse or if the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. No one was aware of it being in either situation.

“I’m just throwing it out there. I don’t know what kind of benefits could be incurred as a result of it being in pristine original condition,” Brinker said.

The judges also requested $18,210 in electronics from Electronic Office Systems Inc., of Lee’s Summit. The request includes various microphones, speakers and amplifiers.

The items would need to be submitted for reimbursement by the end of June to be eligible for funding under the 2020 CARES Act. But Brinker said it could still be eligible for funding under the recently passed American Rescue Plan if it isn’t submitted by then. 

Officials expect the acoustic panels to be installed by the end of June.

Hoven thanked the commissioners for allowing the old courtroom, which is larger and allows for more social distancing, to be used.

“I grew up as a lawyer, trying cases in that courtroom,” he said. “And it’s a wonderful courtroom, and it’s going to make it easier for us to bring in large jury panels because it has so much more seating than the other courtrooms. It’s really a plus for us, and it’s a great place to try a lawsuit.”

After the meeting, Hellmann said he would like to start jury trials in the old courthouse “as soon as possible,” saying a judge already had to hear a case in the jury assembly room in the judicial center.

Trials are backed up partly because of COVID-19 but also because of the county’s growth. Hellmann previously told commissioners he hears up to 200 cases a day.

In April, commissioners approved several other expenses related to bringing jury trials back to the historic courtroom, which is now used for county municipal court. 

They included $27,337 for video surveillance hardware from Elliott Data Systems Inc. and a $24,550 mobile X-ray system from Smiths Detection.

Also approved were Garrett walk-through and handheld metal detectors for a total cost of $4,065 and a Zortemp 1000 infrared body temperature reader for $3,347.

Commissioners also at the time approved a $5,375 security desk from Jasper Builders Inc. Officials said the desk for the old courthouse is similar to the desks staffed by officers near the entrances to the county government center and new judicial center.