By Frank Reynolds
The Cherokee County Justice Center, named in honor of Chief Superior Court Judge Frank C. Mills III, is located in downtown Canton. It is home to a variety of courts including superior, state, probate, magistrate, juvenile and the clerk of courts. The current courthouse was built in 1994, and prior to that, court was held in the historic marble courthouse next door.
Of course, I remember Judge Mills and the old courthouse rather well. It was he who sentenced me to community service when I was 15 years old for breaking a school bus mirror. I recall, rather vividly, his booming voice echoing throughout the marble and oak courtroom. I often share that experience with young people when talking about the consequences of making poor decisions.
Interestingly, the old jail is on top of the historic courthouse. Many of you may still remember driving through downtown Canton on any given night to hear a few inmates shouting down to the passing cars.
One of the duties of the sheriff is to provide safety and security for all judges, prosecutors, staff, jurors, and visitors to the courthouse. The Georgia Constitution mandates that the sheriff should have an office within the courthouse and provide general security. After the deadly Fulton County courthouse shooting in 2005, Georgia law requires all sheriffs to have a written comprehensive safety plan that is agreed upon by the chief superior judge Ellen McElyea.
The Justice Center is often a very busy place, especially during trial week. On any given day, the courthouse is a flurry of activity. Licensing, trials, mediations, negotiations, and marriages fill the hours with excitement for some and monotony for others. For instance, Clerk of Courts Patty Baker-McElroy can have upwards of 200 citizens gathered in the jury assembly room on the first day of trials.
In 2018, sheriffs deputies searched 201,751 people entering the courthouse, which includes 1,716 court sessions. Additionally, deputies provided transportation for 4,739 inmates for scheduled court appearances.
The Court Services Unit (CSU) is commanded by Captain Chris Sims and Lieutenant Bobby Benfield. Although Captain Sims is relatively new to the CSU team, Lt. Benfield is an icon at the courthouse, having served in the Unit since 1994. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention retired Corporal Ronnie Reece and the 31 professional men and women who serve in the CSU.
The CSU is responsible for the safe transportation of inmates appearing for court and that each judge is provided a minimum of one deputy per courtroom, each door is secured, every person is properly checked and vetted and seemingly most importantly letting jurors know the best places to eat lunch.
In the next few years, the Justice Center will undergo a facelift and expansion to meet the growing needs of our community. I am told this will include technology updates, additional courtrooms and offices, and parking accommodations.
The next time you are visiting the Justice Center, please take a moment to say hello to one of the CSU team. They always appreciate the positive recognition, and they may even recommend a good restaurant and NO, I dont mean Dunkin Doughnuts.