Court moves from jail during renovations

LAWRENCEVILLE - When a magistrate judge opened his mouth recently to sentence a defendant to 12 months on probation and a fine, sudden noises from construction of courtrooms in the Gwinnett County Detention Center drowned out the words.

The defendant looked puzzled, so another defendant in the courtroom piped up, whispering, "He said you got the electric chair," Chief Magistrate Judge Warren Davis said.

The judge promptly assured the defendant that was not his sentence and then silenced the other man.

Court officials have dealt patiently with such noisy interruptions for the past several months, but now they won't have to. Magistrate Court operations are temporarily moving to the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center until construction is completed in April, Davis said.

"It's safer, quicker, and we'll be back there sooner," Davis said.

In the meantime, preliminary hearings, warrant applications, fast-track State and Superior Court pleas and all other business except for first appearance hearings will be transferred to one of two first-floor courtrooms at GJAC at 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville.

The only magistrate operations still at the jail are first appearance hearings, which are moving temporarily into the roll-call classroom for Sheriff's deputies.

Gwinnettians will still have access to a magistrate judge 24 hours a day, seven days a week in several first-floor courtrooms at GJAC. Timing for the temporary move couldn't have been better, Davis said, since it coincided with the recent opening of a new Gwinnett County Court Annex building at 115 Stone Mountain St. in Lawrenceville. Moving Juvenile and Recorders Court operations into that building freed up several courtrooms at GJAC.

Besides saving eardrums, the move allows visitors to avoid other difficulties that would have occurred if Magistrate Court stayed put in the jail. There will be no need to route everyone around the outside of the building to the rear of the facility while the front access areas are being rebuilt. Construction dust that had previously caused some breathing and allergy problems will also no longer be bothersome, Davis said.

Once the renovations are complete in 10 weeks, the Gwinnett County Detention Center will house all of the Gwinnett County Magistrate criminal division and boast two additional courtrooms for a total of four. Office space for representatives from the District Attorney's and Solicitor's Offices, Clerk of Court and Public Defenders will also be constructed.