Court and security personnel and lawyers spoke enthusiastically of the new Boardman Court location where court was in session for the first time Thursday.
Judge Joseph M. Houser presided over cases that included felony and misdemeanor criminal cases as well as traffic cases.
The court moved Monday to the new location in a former ophthalmologist’s office at 8110 Market St. after having been at Boardman Plaza for 23 years.
“It’s going to be better for those people who are utilizing the court — the general public. There’s a lot more seating in the lobby” than was available at the shopping plaza location, Judge Houser said.
“We also have more room for the operations here. We’ve implemented a brand-new filing system” in the clerk’s office, the judge said in his new chambers.
“Now we have more room in the prisoner-holding area” and more room to separate witnesses from defendants accused of hurting them, he added.
Judge Houser said a formal dedication and open house at the new location is planned for early May in conjunction with the annual Law Week observance.
The one-story building features a new roof; a spacious entrance lobby and clerk-of-courts waiting room with ceramic-tile floors, each featuring two skylights; a spacious maple-paneled courtroom with seating for 81 spectators; a separate, exterior prisoner entrance and five prisoner-holding cells; and private offices for the judge, bailiff, prosecutor and probation officers.
All the furniture was brought from Boardman Plaza, except for a few items left behind and donated by Dr. Kong Oh, the previous occupant of the premises, who retired.
“It’s a huge improvement,” defense lawyer James Gentile said of the new court.
A major advantage of the new facility is that it features a conference room, where lawyers can meet privately with their clients instead of having to talk with them in a hallway, Gentile added.
“It’s a beautiful facility. I think it’s going to add a lot to the function of the court,” said Martin Hume, the assistant county prosecutor assigned to the court. “It’s a larger facility [than the plaza location]. It’s more modern. We’re trying to update all of the equipment and do things more efficiently,” he added.
Last October, the Mahoning County Commissioners unanimously approved a 10-year lease for the new court quarters at a cost of $1.5 million over the life of the lease, with renovation costs included in the lease price.
The monthly rent at Boardman Plaza under a month-to-month lease was $5,441.
Sgt. Thomas J. Assion, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 141, which represents county deputy sheriffs who provide court security, said the new location has two major security advantages for court personnel and the public.
The first is that it is a stand-alone facility with no noncourt occupants; and the second is that it has enough space to properly separate prisoners from others in the court facility, Assion said. “It’s clean. It’s well-lit” and handicapped-accessible, he said of the new court facility.
Because the court is in a stand-alone facility, it “has more than adequate parking,” said Colleen Ingram, court administrator. “The only business here is court business,” Ingram said in the new court. “It has more space and a bigger lobby” than the old location, she noted.
Boardman Plaza is filled with retail tenants and their customer traffic and is extremely crowded during the pre-Christmas shopping season, she said.
Like the old location, the new location has regular Western Reserve Transit Authority bus service, she added.
Perimeter landscaping and parking-lot sealing and striping still need to be performed in the new location, she said.
Clerk of Courts Anthony Vivo said court officials had the advantage in the Market Street location of being able to design the facility to their specifications for maximum workflow efficiency.
“We control the total security of the building and access to the building. It’s a newer facility and it’s in a good location,” Vivo concluded.