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December 29, 2002

New federal courthouse comes with high-tech gadgets

From: Columbia State, SC - 29 Dec 2002

New federal courthouse comes with high-tech gadgets
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina's chief federal judge is looking forward to moving into a new $38 million courthouse next fall that's loaded with high-tech gadgets and modern amenities.

"It's going to be a very handsome and functional building, but it's not going to be a Taj Mahal - no chandeliers," Judge Joe Anderson said.

The courtrooms in the Matthew J. Perry U.S. Courthouse will be much bigger, better lit and have better acoustics than the ones that Anderson said jurors constantly criticized at the Strom Thurmond complex, a block away.

The lighting was so bad, according to a workplace-safety analysis, that it looked like "a dance hall," Anderson said. "I'm not kidding. I've got it in the files."

The new courthouse also will have comforts that were rare at the Thurmond building, including restrooms on each floor, instead of just one in the basement, and public phones everywhere, instead of a three-phone bank in the basement.

Jury boxes will have special monitors to review evidence and infrared hearing devices will be available for hearing-impaired jurors.

And Unruly defendants tossed from a courtroom will be sent to an isolation cell where they can use electronics to participate.

Security will be strict but less noticeable because metal detectors have been built into the entrance. Belongings will be scanned by X-ray machines, Anderson said.

The Perry courthouse is "a real leap forward" toward the courtroom of the future, said South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal.

Toal has been working to improve state courtrooms but said no other courthouse in the state will be as sophisticated as the Perry building.

The Perry courthouse, the first new facility of its type in 20 years in the state, is designed to withstand the worst blows nature or humans can deliver.

"If a hurricane comes to Columbia, I'm heading to the courthouse," joked Anderson.

Since the Oklahoma City bombing, federal buildings also must be built to strict safety standards.

The three-story Perry courthouse will be South Carolina's only stand-alone federal courthouse. Others share buildings with other U.S. government offices.

In August 2000, ground was broken for a 163,200-square-foot tribute to Perry, a civil-rights legend and senior U.S. district judge.

World-renowned ironworks artist Philip Simmons of Charleston designed the main gates.

The 90-year-old blacksmith's $90,000 wrought iron gates feature Palmetto trees and scales of justice. Federal construction rules require that local art be used.

Project managers chose Simmons' work over art that might cause visitors to wonder what it is, Anderson said. "We thought of something a little more practical."

Information from: The State

© 2001 thestate and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.