New courthouse opens to employees

Trials, hearings underway at old courthouse

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The seven-year delayed, $350 million Duval County Courthouse opened its doors to employees Monday to set up shop.

The courthouse passed a fire safety test Friday, and now judges say employees from clerks to aids are beginning to move into their new offices.

The new courthouse is not expected to be open to the public until next Monday.

"Very excited. Can't wait, especially after being in the old building this morning," said Donna Luoto, a judge's assistant. "It's great to be here. It's where we need to be, and just glad to be here ready to get back to work on Monday -- next Monday."

Meanwhile, the old courthouse was open Monday for a limited amount of hearings and one jury trial. Two other jury trials on tobacco cases are set to take place at the Beach Boulevard site.

The grandeur of the old building is gone. Courtrooms are now marked with just paper signs, but the work is just as important.

Judge Charles Arnold is finishing up a very busy calendar after three weeks without hearings have created a huge backup.

"Well, we had 33 pages, which is 66 cases we had this morning, and we have another judge coming in behind us," Arnold said. "We are using three courtrooms and three judges in each courtroom, so that is a whole bunch of cases. Yes, it was vital that we came back today."

About 400 prospective jurors were being called in for this week's cases.

"It will take us about three weeks to get caught up, and then we will be back to a usual criminal division schedule," Arnold said.

For Arnold, who will retire this year, being back in the old courtroom is bittersweet. He's glad to be moving but said it was in this same courtroom 43 year ago where he began his career as an attorney in a drug case.

The city is also expected to find out by the end of the week how much it will have to pay for the additional moves.

Because of the failed fire safety test, 255 additional fire safety devices had to be installed.

The city must also pay for work that has yet to be done and wasn't accounted for going into the project.

Turner Construction is being charged $4,000 per day for each day the building has been behind schedule.

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