Court crush creates safety hazard

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Sheriff's Sgt. Michael Potts, left, and Assistant Fire Marshal Carl Peas, right, help a defendant determine if he had a pending court case Tuesday.
Several hundred General Sessions Court defendants crammed the Judicial Building hallways today, creating a safety hazard that required an assistant Murfreesboro fire marshal to ask non-defendants to leave.

Assistant Murfreesboro fire marshal Carl Peas asked sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Potts, who supervises the Judicial Building security division, to help clear the halls packed with about 400 defendants who came to court accompanied by family members and friends.

The dockets were overcrowded with court cases held over from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Judge Ben McFarlin allowed Potts to announce in court that people who didn’t have a case must leave the building.

Potts stopped people individually if they had a case. If they didn’t, he ordered them out.

Murfreesboro Fire Marshal Ken Honeycutt said the halls were supposed to be used to enter and leave the building. The overcrowded halls were a safety hazard in the event of an emergency where people panic and get in a hurry trying to get out.

Murfreesboro fire marshals will return to the Judicial Building Tuesday to keep people out of the building unless they have to be in court.

“If we have to be here every day to enforce this, we will,” Honeycutt said. “Our job is to enforce life safety and that’s what we’re going to do.”

For the short-term solution, Honeycutt hopes to meet with county officials to find an answer.

County Mayor Ernest Burgess said for the short-term, the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office will use the former Youth Services offices to speak with clients out of the hallways when the new Juvenile Services and Correcttional Work Center opens in April or May.

The county has been studying options for another Judicial Building for courts.

“We are nearing the end of a study that’s being handled by a consulting firm,” Burgess said.

The consultants met with court officials to gather data about the workloads of judges and the spaces required, the mayor said. They hope to make recommendations through 2030 to deal with the increase in the criminal justice system.

Burgess expects to receive the report within two or three months.

“Hopefully, we will have enough information to build a plan over a reasonable period of handle the increase of workload in the future,” Burgess said.

Until then, Honeycutt said the fire marshal’s office will monitor the hallways “on a daily basis if necessary.”

The Judicial Building is equipped with a fully-sprinkled fire alarm system.
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Members Opinions:
January 08, 2008 at 12:00am
I had to go to the judicial building a few months ago for jury duty.
I hate to imagine what would happen if something had caused a panic.
There would have been hundreds of people trampled.
Why don't they build a big court building out by the jail with a tunnel for moving prisoners back and forth?
January 08, 2008 at 12:00am
Snook, that is a great suggestion.
January 08, 2008 at 12:00am
A bigger Murfreesboro also means more criminals. A bigger building sounds in order. Great idea snook.
January 08, 2008 at 12:00am
You can make a situation look as bad as you want it to. I challenge anyone to go to the Judicial Building on any day after 1:00 p.m. You will see empty hallways and litte activity. The problem has become docket management in light of our growing census. Once upon a time, a 8:00 docket was okay because there were only 100 on a docket. Today there were 525 on the docket. Tomorrow there are over 400 on the docket. Each of these folks usually bring some family member or support member with them. The answer is not to bar the courthouse doors. It is time for our court officials to start two dockets one at 9:00 and one at 1:00 and spread these folks out. If two judges are in the office, they need to each split the docket and assist each other. It is manageable but will require some new ideas for new problems. Further there are larger courtrooms in that building that can be utilized when the dockets are heavy. There is just no reason to put the safety of human beings on the line to try and prove a point. A new judicial building is on the horizon, but until then we will have to efficiently use the resources given us. It is never a good idea to put the scales of justice in the shadow of a jail.
January 09, 2008 at 12:00am
I was in that court room a few months ago and I could see immediately that it was a fire hazard and could cost many lives in the event of a fire. (and I'm not a fire marshall)....Why has it taken so long to realize the problem when Rutherford County is growing so quickly and building so many other types of buildings. What is the historic courthouse being used for? Maybe temporary use of that would be a solution. Something MUST be done QUICKLY...
January 09, 2008 at 12:00am
I saw the fire chief on WTVF and he said" I HEARD today was the worst it's ever been." Isn't that heresay? Why could he not be bothered to stop by himself? Seems highly suspicious to deny defendants their support group. Only the courts to oversee themselves.
Very sketchy!
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