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History, memories go with courthouse move

Employees begin moving out of old building

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After years of delays and debates, moving day finally arrived Friday for workers at the Duval County Courthouse in downtown Jacksonville.

The new 800,000-square-foot courthouse is set to open May 29.

In the meantime, employees and judges are working to move boxes of files, documents and the like to the new courthouse.

"I have been here so long. I think my memory is shot just like the courthouse," Chief Judge Donald Moran said. "I can't really remember anything. I am just pleased to be moving."

It's a move that could take about a week. A good part will happen this weekend as officials move the furniture floor by floor. But there are files still to be boxed up and court work that needs to be finished.

In fact, attorney David Willis just finished up a case Friday -- one of the last to be heard in the old courthouse.

"Well, it's nice to be in the old courthouse," Willis said. "This is very familiar, and I am anxious to see the new courthouse, and it was special to have a case on the last day. The halls are empty, and it was unique seeing the hallways this way."

Signs are being taken down in the old building, and people are looking to see what needs to stay and what needs to go.

As they begin to move, they are also uncovering some history of the courthouse, like an old record book from before Jacksonville's Great Fire of 1901. The book is scorched, and it's just one of the many things employees are uncovering.

As they transition to the new building, they're also bringing along old memories.

Nancy Hanzellon, who's been in the clerk's office for 30 years, is helping to preserve some of the history.

"There are so many happy times for me in this courthouse," she said. "We have been though so much, so many changes and what have you. The people I have met, many of the attorneys I worked with when I first started are now judges."

For Lisa Gardener, a judicial assistant, the move is bittersweet.

"It's emotional. I grew up there. It'll be 20 years May 22nd," said Gardener.

High-profile cases highlight 50-year history of courthouse

A building filled with 50 years of history in Jacksonville is now closed. The last case in the old Duval County Courthouse was heard Friday.

It's a building where many lives were changed, and it's a place that will be remembered for years.

Over those last 50 years, there have been some notorious cases that have gone though the courthouse, like cab driver Paul Durousseau, who is now on death row, convicted in one murder and suspected in six others. Or Rasheem Dubose, who is sentenced to death for the killing of 8-year-old DreShawna Davis, whose murder brought about changes in how Jacksonville addresses violent crime.

And then there is the case of Earnest Dobber, convicted of killing his two young children in 1971. The children's bodies were never found, and he was executed.

Court magistrate Don Matthews, who is making the move to the new courthouse, said he remembers some violent and deadly days in the building. In 1971, when he was an attorney, he said people were allowed to bring guns inside, and one of his clients was shot and killed in the lobby.

"It was a husband and wife, and we were in a divorce action and each had bought a gun," Matthews said. "He shot her in the back and she turned around and shot him in the arm, and the police officer killed her, thought she was the bad guy, and she was just trying to defend herself."

As tragic as some of the stories are, there are many others that are the opposite, and Matthews remembers one about a judge.

"One was particularly hard of hearing, and he tried to sentence or book a lady brought up for soliciting Avon products," Matthews said. "He thought it was for soliciting for prostitution, so he was reaming her out for 20 minutes to a poor little housewife, and her husband finally got up and said she has had enough."

Seventy-one-year-old court bailiff Adam Fluker has been around the courthouse since it opened, first as an officer, then a bailiff in 1971. He has seen criminals come and go, but he will always remember one where a woman was asked to identify the bad guy.

"They asked her, 'Do you see the person who robbed you in the courtroom?'" Fluker said. "She said, 'Yeah.' 'Can you point him out?' And she pointed at him and that was him right there with the blue coat on. And he said, 'You are telling a lie. I had a mask on.'"