The Courthouse Annex on City Island may be replaced with a new 5 story courthouse. For anyone who doesn’t know, City Island is adjacent to Downtown Daytona Beach in the Halifax River. The best thing about the Annex is the proximity to the River and the views. The new courthouse is proposed for Downtown along with a new 4 story Volusia County administration office building next to it.

I’ve had hundreds, maybe thousands, of cases at the Annex, and have spent a lot of time in trials, hearings, and other proceedings there. It holds many memories for me of the cases, and the clients, judges and adversaries who went along with them. I could quickly digress here into some of the more memorable but I’ll save that for my book!

So, will I miss the Annex if it is replaced? Well, yeah, a little. In a certain way you’d almost have to miss a place you’d been so much, and where so many significant things had happened. But that doesn’t mean the building is anything special. It isn’t, and it’s time for something better.

The impetus for the new courthouse seems to be better security. That’s a legitimate concern. The Annex was built in 1970 and it’s antiquated. The cost to fix it would probably exceed the cost to build new, if it could even be done, and it still wouldn’t be big enough. But, aside from better security there are a number of other ways in which a new courthouse could be better.

For any of you who have spent time as a juror, or prospective juror, in a courtroom at the Annex you know that climate control is an oxymoron. So far as I can tell there is no such thing and it can be cold, or hot, and there isn’t much of anything that can be done about it. Presumably a new courthouse could actually have some climate control.

It used to be that the best I could do for a visual aid during a trial at the Annex was a big white pad on an easel and markers. If I wanted to show the jurors a computer animation, or videotaped deposition, I’d have to bring in a television and set it up in front of the jury box.

Then I was able to start using computers, and projectors, to display evidence and demonstrative exhibits. This includes videotapes. While there are projector screens in at least some of the courtrooms they are usually not positioned well so I almost always use a wall instead. Computers are definitely an improvement over white pads and televisions.

In some of the newer courthouses, especially in federal court, everybody involved in the trial has a computer monitor in front of them to watch. If we had that type of technology in a new courthouse it would be simpler and easier for the lawyers to make presentations and the jurors would be better able to assess the evidence.

I haven’t checked in a while but when last I did there were a couple of vending machines or so in the basement of the Annex. In the past there used to be a snack bar which was staffed through the Division of Blind Services I believe. I remember that arrangement in other courthouses as well. However, that is no longer. If jurors, or anybody else in the courthouse, want something more than vending machines can offer they have to go elsewhere.

There are 450 employees at the various facilities which would be consolidated into the new courthouse and office building. On top of that there would be plenty of visitors. When they built the new Deland courthouse a cafe was included. Although the Downtown restaurants would welcome more business, having an on site cafe at the new courthouse, or the office building next door, could be a real convenience, especially when there isn’t a lot of time to spare. Surely we can do better than vending machines.

Speaking of the Deland courthouse, I think that was was well done. It’s attractive inside and out and seems harmonious with its surroundings. Something I particularly like is the art that is on display through the Art In Public Places program. Maybe that’s just me. I like art.

Excuse me while I go off on a bit of a tangent. It used to be common for public buildings to be built beautifully and for art to be included. Having beautiful buildings was a statement and a source of pride. Think about it. There are a lot of old libraries, city halls, capitol buildings, and courthouses, for example, which are just beautiful.

In fact I consider the old courthouse in Deland one of those. If you haven’t seen it you ought to go inside. I had the pleasure of trying cases in the big courtroom there before that courthouse was replaced, restored, and put to its current use. It was worthy of saving. Some old courthouses are, some aren’t. That courtroom always reminded me a bit of the courtroom in To Kill a Mockingbird. Again, I’ve got stories to tell on that courtroom which I will save for another day!

I’m all for government being fiscally conservative. But, if we don’t spend a little money on aesthetics, and art, in our public buildings we are really missing out on an opportunity to enhance our quality of life, and, to inspire future makers of beautiful things. Anyway, I’m hoping a new courthouse would be attractive inside and out and also take advantage of the Art in Public Places program.

I’m sure there are those who find the Annex attractive. No disrespect intended to whoever was responsible for the design, but I’m not one of them. It’s pretty bland. Somewhat “institutional”. Not charming. There’s nothing exceptional enough about the structure to warrant preservation. If it were torn down I doubt many tears would be shed.

One of my favorite things throughout my career has been handling litigation in many places, in Florida, and around the country, and experiencing the courthouses. I’m not sure which came first, my infatuation with courthouses or my career as a lawyer, but they co-exist very well together! The older courthouses invariably have a unique personality. I like to think that if we build a new courthouse that ours will also have a personality that speaks well of our community.

I started my career in Miami and was part of a very busy litigation firm. I was at the Dade County Courthouse all the time. Tried many cases there as well. Sometimes I’d have five hearings by 10:00 in the morning. That courthouse was built in the 20’s. There has been talk of replacing it over the years, and again recently, but for now it is still going. It’s definitely old, and it has its issues, but I like it. I can’t help it, it has personality!

I have had some litigation in Miami the past few years and have had a chance to go back to the courthouse. It’s been fun. Doesn’t seem to have changed at all. And better yet, my older daughter, who is now an attorney herself, recently went to a hearing in the Dade County Courthouse for the first time and sent me a picture of herself in the lobby! What a proud moment! History repeats!

I could certainly come up with more potential benefits of a new courthouse but will leave it at this for now. I would welcome the opportunity to play a role of some sort in shaping the new courthouse. Some of those who ply their trade there ought to be involved, even if it’s not me. I’m confident that will happen. In the interim, feel free to share your own courthouse stories!