MARIETTA - During the first jury trial held in the new Marietta Municipal Court, Judge Janet Dyar-Welch asked jurors if they would be willing to submit comments or suggestions on how the facility worked for them and what could be done to improve it.
She received two notes.
The first said "The parking lot is nice," Dyar-Welch recalled Friday at the official dedication of the building at 259 Butler St. "And the second comment was, 'You need to have something other than just coffee.'"
Photo by Evan Bevins
Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar-Welch, right, is joined in reciting the judicial oath of office by, from left, Cambridge Municipal Court Judge John M. Nicholson, Chillicothe Municipal Court Judge John B. Street and Athens County Common Pleas Court Judge L. Alan Goldsberry, while former Marietta Law Director Roland W. Riggs III, seated, listens, during a dedication ceremony Friday for Marietta’s new municipal court building.
"What it really meant was, we got it right," she said.
Coming a little more than five months after the court officially opened for business in the heavily renovated former Ohio Bureau of Employment Services building, Friday's dedication was seen by the judge as a way to close the book on a long- and at times contentious - period in Marietta's history.
"I think it's good for the community to close this chapter and go on to the other priorities the city needs to focus on," Dyar-Welch said.
Establishing a court that met the needs of plaintiffs, defendants, jurors and the citizens of Washington County was an issue grappled with by multiple judges, attorneys and city leaders over many years.
"What a beautiful day and what a long time we've waited for it," said Roland W. Riggs III, the city law director for 37 years and master of ceremonies for Friday's event.
Riggs listed the many failings of the previous facility on the second floor of the city building on Putnam Street, including a lack of handicapped accessibility, no way to separate victims, defendants and jurors in close quarters, a leaking roof and inadequate heating and cooling and electrical systems. He said it was important to have a modern, accessible and convenient municipal court because it's the most likely place for residents of Washington County to interact with the judicial branch of government, as all misdemeanor violations are handled there and the bulk of felony cases start there as well.
Instead of singling out individuals, Riggs thanked in general the past and present judges, mayors, city council members and attorneys who worked on the project, citizens who voted on ballot issues that helped determine the direction taken and the plaintiff and attorney "whose mandamus action provided a much-needed jump start to the project."
That plaintiff, Marietta resident Butch Badgett, was among the more than 100 people in attendance at Friday's event. In 2006, he filed the lawsuit to force the city to provide accessible court facilities.
On Friday, Badgett said he believed he did play an important role in the process, but that it was the work of multiple parties - including Dyar-Welch, city engineer Joe Tucker and city officials - that made the new court a reality.
"It was the total effort of all of us," he said.
Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane, a former municipal court judge, praised Dyar-Welch's work on the project.
"You certainly deserve a place of honor for pulling all the diverse factions together to get this done," he said.
The process went through many stops and starts as the former OBES building was identified as a possible site and funding for its purchase and the renovations were secured. Bids coming in higher than anticipated forced several changes in design that made the process challenging, but architect Ryan Ware, a Marietta native who oversaw the project for Columbus-based M+A Architects, said he believes the final product is a good one.
Dyar-Welch said having more space in the courtroom changes the dynamics of a trial for the better, an assessment with which Washington County Public Defender Ray Smith agreed.
"There's plenty of room to walk around and act out the case," he said.
Smith said another important addition is space to meet with clients in private.
The day brought back a lot of memories for Columbus resident Terry Fleming, 66.
"Fifty-four years ago, I was at the first, the original municipal court swearing-in ceremony," he said.
Fleming's father, Clifford, was the city solicitor who drew up the legislation to create the municipal court, then ran for and was elected to the office of judge. Fleming remembered his older brother holding the Bible as their father was sworn in, then the family gathering behind him for a photo.
The elder Fleming served less than a year, taking office in January of 1958 and dying that October.