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School's out, so court's in

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:46 PM

Court is in session at Norwalk High School.

Huron County Common Pleas Court and the Clerk of Courts set up shop this week at NHS to accommodate the installation of a new heating and air conditioning system at the Main Street courthouse. Officials are giving the temporary move and transition a thumbs-up, aside from the library being too cold.

Court Administrator Linda Stower complimented Viking Computer Systems with doing a great job of setting up the computer and telephone systems.

"The criminal docket (Monday) went as smooth as we've ever had," she said. "No complaints from the court."

Judge Jim Conway's new courtroom is room 6105 in the social studies wing. Other offices, including Conway's, his staff's and Magistrate Bradley Sales', are across the hall.

"I think it's easier for me than anyone else, because I was not used to anything else," said Conway, who started the elected position in mid-May.

Beside Conway's courtroom is a classroom being used both as a holding space for prisoners or, in the case of a trial, a deliberating room for jurors. Attorneys also can use the classroom to interview their clients.

Bob McDowell, the investigator for the county prosecutor's office, said when prisoners are waiting for their hearings, deputies place chairs about 5 or 6 feet away from each other throughout the room.

"The rule is the same in the jail. They are not allowed physical contact," he explained.

Visitors enter the clerk of court's office through the library, where each person is scanned for metal objects by a Huron County sheriff's deputy. McDowell has been escorting people to a check-in desk outside the library.

"A deputy stays here. We shuffle them back and forth. ... We've been doing two or three at a time," he said. "Everybody's been quiet and orderly."

After court officials determine what specific hearing the person plans on attending, they lead the person to the courtroom. Because of limited seating for about 10 people, only the friends and relatives of people involved in the case are allowed in the courtroom.

"We don't want people standing," McDowell said. "We don't want a packed, packed house."

Court visitors aren't allowed to take purses or bags into the courtroom. They are encouraged to take them back to their vehicles.

"The only person allowed to bring a bag is an attorney," Deputy Joe Leroux said.

He explained that the bag prohibition is to prevent someone from bringing contraband to court. Leroux, who alternates security detail at the court house with Deputy Scott Plew, said most people have been understanding about the change in security procedures.

Leroux said the biggest disadvantage now is there is no deputy in court to supplement a corrections officer and help process paperwork, as there was in the court house. With the present situation, McDowell must come get the deputy covering the library entrance if there is an incident in the court room.

The court staff met with Norwalk City Schools Superintendent Wayne Babcanec as soon as he offered the high school as a temporary setting. After court officials determined the school was a good fit, there were meetings with the court staff, Babcanec and Sheriff Richard Sutherland about security arrangements.

"We started early talking to both of them," Conway said. "We're very grateful to Dr. Babcanec and his staff."

The judge also shared his gratitude about his staff, the county commissioners, NHS employees and custodial staff in making the transition easy.

"It went tremendously smoothly, (but) not without a lot of planning beforehand," Conway said.

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