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Students explore justice system, new courthouse

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Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013 6:00 am | Updated: 10:27 am, Wed Nov 20, 2013.

Court open for public viewing Nov. 18

One hundred students were given the special privilege of touring the new Calaveras County Courthouse Thursday – making them some of the first county residents to step over the threshold.

Eighth graders from Mark Twain Elementary School were wide-eyed as they walked through the huge building, which will open for court hearings Monday, Nov. 25.

Hugh Swift, Calaveras County court executive officer, greeted the students in one of four courtrooms. The eighth-graders filled the seats for the public, jury, plaintiff and defendant.

“You are the first visitors to this courthouse, so welcome,” he said.

Students, abuzz with excitement, asked retired Judge Douglas Mewhinney questions about his profession: “How does someone become a judge?” “What is the daily life like?” “Do you have to buy your robes?”

The venerable Mewhinney gladly answered their queries – one must practice law for at least 10 years; life is busy; yes, he has owned three black robes over the 27 years he’s served as a judge.

Mewhinney told students that on Nov. 18, court employees will begin transitioning to the new site and that training will commence for new judges. Mewhinney said California Gov. Jerry Brown is in the midst of interviews to appoint a new Calaveras County Superior Court judge.

Eighth-grader Katie Juarez said exploring the courthouse was an amazing experience. Before the tour, she was most excited about seeing a courtroom.

“It’s a beautiful structure,” she said. “I’ve only seen one on TV.”

And this impact was one of the primary goals of the students’ field trip.

Mark Twain parent Mindi Bach, who helped coordinate and then attended the tour, said the eighth-graders’ visit gave a real-life illustration to their studies.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity since they’re studying the Constitution and it would be an interesting tie-in (to the curriculum),” she said.

Sheriff Gary Kuntz also came along for part of the event. He said the new jail and Sheriff’s Office are still under construction, but he hopes to host a similar tour of those structures when the time comes.

“They get a grasp of what the judicial system is about,” he said.

The general public will also have an opportunity to join a tour during the courthouse’s dedication ceremony at noon Monday, Nov. 18, at 400 Government Center Drive, San Andreas.

The dedication ceremony marks the completion of more than five years of planning, design and construction of the state-of-the-art courthouse. Those involved in the project hope the structure will improve public access to justice with its self-help center, dedicated jury assembly room, improved access to clerk services and enhanced security.

“We are looking forward to sharing the new facilities with the public,” Swift said. “The innovative design of the building will allow us to provide an enhanced level of service to all court users.”

Presiding Judge John Martin said the project was a cooperative effort that involved the court, the county’s legal community, county officials and the Administrative Office of the Courts of California.

“I think it is important to recognize the commitment of everyone who participated in the planning, design and construction this building,” Martin said. “The results of their hard work can be seen in the quality of the finished product.”

The courthouse was designed by the DLR Group and built by McCarthy Building Co.  The building features an expansive entrance plaza, a two-story glass lobby and great hall and natural light throughout the building. The facility also boasts sustainability features, such as a solar array on the roof and a green rooftop terrace.

For the dedication ceremony and tour, members of the public needing accommodation due to a disability, such as an assistive listening system or a sign language interpreter, are requested to contact Karen Camper at 754-6143 at least 72 hours in advance of the event.

More information about the courthouse project is available here.

© 2015 Calaveras Enterprise. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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