COLUMBUS, Miss. — A Mississippi community has authorized the negotiation for the last piece of privately-held land on the block occupied by the county courthouse and needed for a possible expansion project.

The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors voted this week to authorize County Administrator Ralph Billingsley to negotiate with the estate of Randolph Lipscomb. A renewed effort to purchase the old Lipscomb law office building along with demolition of the county’s courthouse annex building last week has sparked new talk about possibly adding at least one courtroom, something court officials say is badly needed.

The Commercial Dispatch reports talk of expansion goes back more than 10 years.

“There’s really not any expansion planned in the near future,” Billingsley said. “But at some point, I think it’s definitely going to happen. Really, it’s just a matter of when. I think the supervisors understand the need for another courtroom.”

Currently, there are two courtrooms on each floor used by three circuit court judges and three chancery court judges.

Circuit court hears felony criminal cases, as well as civil cases. Chancery court hears civil and domestic relations cases, ranging from bankruptcy and land disputes to divorce and child custody cases. The local districts of both courts cover Lowndes, Clay, Oktibbeha and Noxubee counties.

While unlike the circuit court, which convenes at the courthouse for four three-week sessions each year, the chancery court is held at the courthouse throughout the year. Even so, the biggest backlog resulting from the lack of courtroom space is found in circuit court, which uses two courtrooms when in session.

“Technically, we only have one courtroom,” Circuit Court Judge Jim Kitchens said. “The two courtrooms downstairs both belong to the chancery court, but they are kind enough to let us use the bigger courtroom downstairs when we’re in session.”

Because there are only two courtrooms available, one judge is not in session during a court term. The three judges alternate sitting out terms.

The implications of that arrangement are obvious, said District Attorney Scott Colom.

“Having a third courtroom would move the docket along and that’s significant,” Colom said. “It would give victims closure sooner and it would also give defendants their day in court sooner.”

Colom said the impact of the courtroom shortage is equally obvious.

“Do the math: If we had a third courtroom, all three judges could work all four sessions,” Colom said. “That would be an additional 12 weeks they could be hearing cases. We clear anywhere from 30 to 40 cases during a three-week session. So adding another courtroom would mean clearing, easily, 100 more cases.”

Although Lowndes supervisors have entered no formal discussions, board president Harry Sanders has said adding a courtroom would cost roughly $2.5 to $3 million.


Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com