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Lawrence courthouse to correct fire safety issues

By Nancy Glasscock
nglasscock@decaturdaily.com · 340-2443

MOULTON — An appeal hearing requested by the County Commission on safety violations at the Lawrence County Courthouse won’t be necessary, said state Fire Marshal Ed Paulk.

Paulk filed an order July 5 that threatened to shut down the courthouse for failing to comply with state fire and building codes. He said Friday the issue is being settled outside of court, and county officials are working to correct safety code violations.

Paulk said in the order the county should immediately stop using extension cords, and start limiting the number of visitors to 49 on each floor, but county commissioners said Paulk’s demands would disrupt county and courthouse operations. The commission filed an appeal to Paulk’s order July 10.

Paulk also said in his order the courthouse should remove old records cluttering hallways and storage rooms, but Lawrence County Circuit Court Clerk Harce Hill said Friday that process is far from complete.

State law

The state requires all court records to remain at the courthouse until they are scanned and sent to the Administrative Office of Courts in Montgomery. At that time, the paper records can either be thrown away or stored at another facility.

Hill said old records from the Lawrence County Courthouse are sent to the old jail.

“We started scanning everything when it comes in now,” Hill said. “But the files in the basement go back so far.”

The circuit clerk’s office began scanning new documents in April and hired a part-time employee to scan the old records. Circuit Judge Philip Reich asked the clerk’s office to keep the physical records until the case is settled and all fines are paid.

The state pays the scanner for 20 hours a week, and the clerk’s office uses restitutional funds to pay for an additional 16 hours.

Hill said the commission wouldn’t approve his request for $10,000 to hire another employee to scan records, which would allow the documents to be transferred faster.

County Commissioner Alma Whitlow said the commission has to consider all requests before approving its budget later this month.

“We’ve heard a lot of requests, but we’re going to have to look at the total budget before we start doing anything,” she said.

Whitlow and other commissioners toured the courthouse recently.

Piles of records

“We were looking for some things to make some space,” she said. “Unfortunately, the records have piled up there over the past 25 to 30 years and it has not been addressed. Now, it’s a have-to case. It’s falling on us to make some major decisions.”

Whitlow said a water fountain formerly obstructing one exit has been removed, and boxes of old records have also been removed from the courthouse. Reich and personnel in Circuit Court did some painting in that portion of the courthouse, Whitlow said.

The commission will meet with an architect later to discuss courthouse renovations, which could include the relocation of some offices, she said.

“We have not made our minds up fully, but we’ve been looking at several possibilities,” she said.

Hill said he doesn’t think the courthouse is dangerous because the wiring Paulk cites in his order is behind the structure’s concrete walls.

“I don’t know what would burn on it if it caught on fire,” Hill said. “I don’t see anything that would be a danger to people so far.

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