Why do we need a connector?

Published 11:53 am Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Recently, this newspaper published excerpts of a letter from E. Ford Stephens, the attorney representing the commonwealth and judges in litigation regarding the new Charlotte County court facility. Stephens commented on the proposed connection of the new building to the circuit court clerk’s office (connector).

Stephens cites “security” for the staff of the circuit court clerk’s office as the need for the connector. 

The connector — an enclosed bridge suspended between the two buildings above the stairway that will rise from the new parking lot — will provide the only public access to the clerk’s office. The existing clerk’s office public entrance will be closed, and entrance will be solely through the new court facility. 

If there is a potential threat to the clerk’s office personnel, why isn’t there a deputy stationed there now? Why should one constitutional officer receive such security if the commonwealth’s attorney, commissioner of revenue, treasurer and their staffs do not receive it? 

Why was this “need” for security for the clerk’s office personnel not mentioned between June 2012 and December 2014, when the supervisors and judges discussed 18 different plans for additions to the historic courthouse? None of which included any connection to the clerk’s office.

The clerk’s office is located in a renovated early 19th century tavern. The ground floor windows and doors are readily accessible and easily breached. I question whether the connector will provide a real increase in security. In fact, it may lessen security for the new court facility building.

As seen on the floor plan endorsed by the judges and the supervisors, the proposed connector will attach to the rear of the records room (breaching the fire-resistant wall and leaving the records vulnerable), and enter the new building beyond the security checkpoint and metal detectors. 

Someone intending on doing harm could easily enter through a clerk’s office window, gaining access to that building, move through the connector and enter the new court facility without ever passing through security or a metal detector.

We are being asked to spend millions of dollars to build a new court facility primarily to address security concerns, and yet the judges are insisting on a connector that may, in effect, negate that security. 

Do the judges have the authority to demand the connector? Item 39-G of the 2014 (Virginia) Appropriations Act (first passed in 2009) suspends the authority of circuit courts to order repair or replacement of court facilities. This amendment is still in effect. Does this law not apply here? Did it not apply in 2012 when the judges issued the original court order?

I, and many others, believe this connector is a threat to security, an unnecessary expense and an eyesore. It should be eliminated.

Ask your supervisor why — and when exactly — did he or she agree to this connector. And don’t let him or her get away with just “blaming it on the judges.”   

Kathy Liston is a Brookneal resident and guest columnist for The Charlotte Gazette. She can be reached at westview@brookneal.net.