judge clayton
BEACON PHOTO/AL EVERSON NEED IS REAL — Circuit Judge James Clayton is shown in his courtroom. He said the need for more courtroom space in DeLand’s courthouse is very real, given the population explosion over the past 20 years.

After recovering from the sticker shock, the County Council May 17 agreed to build a new courtroom in the Volusia County Courthouse in DeLand.

“$2.4 million for a room?” County Chair Jeff Brower said.

Not a courthouse, not a wing, but a single courtroom inside a building that already exists.

The new courtroom can’t come too soon for judges at work in DeLand. Chief Circuit Judge James Clayton said he, too, was “shocked” at the cost, but convinced of the need.

“We desperately need it. We have judges fighting for space. We do not have enough courtrooms at the present time, because our population has exploded in the 20 years since the courthouse was built,” Judge Clayton told The Beacon. “It’s no different than a road or a bridge. The traffic is increasing. You’ve got felonies. You’ve got civil, family [law cases], probate, juvenile delinquency, dependency, Marchman Act and Baker Act. People are getting divorced. People are suing each other. The courthouse is for the people.”

The new additional trial space in the courthouse at 101 N. Alabama Ave. comes with state-of-the-art security and fire-safety upgrades.

“It’s a lot more expensive than a normal building,” County Council Member and former Sheriff Ben Johnson said.

The county awarded the contract to Ajax Building Co. LLC, of Jacksonville to create the new courtroom on the third floor of the building. Work is slated to start in August and be completed in May 2023. The contract’s “guaranteed maximum” price for the new courtroom price is actually closer to $2.5 million.

Before he agreed to support the courtroom contract, Brower asked if, in the future, he and the rest of the County Council could be given copies of plans for big-ticket courthouse items in advance.

“Certainly I think we could make them available to the council, but we would not make them available to the public because there’s a security element,” County Manager George Recktenwald said.

The County Council approved the contract with Ajax with a unanimous vote.

To handle the rising demands, Clayton said, the 7th Judicial Circuit has 27 circuit judges and 17 county judges. The circuit covers Volusia, Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns counties. Of those numbers, there are eight circuit judges and four county judges trying cases in DeLand.

The courthouse in DeLand currently has eight courtrooms and six hearing rooms. The hearing rooms are smaller and are used for judicial proceedings that do not require the seating of a jury.


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