By Judge Robert Durham, Cookeville
I love old courthouses. Especially, old small-town courthouses.
Before I began working for the Bureau, I was privileged to practice all over the state, and I always got a thrill walking into one of those grand old buildings. I loved the musty smell of books and files and the hushed, solemn tones. I loved the marble and the steep stairs with the wrought-iron railings. I loved the dark paneling and the benches and banisters worn smooth by generations of people whose fortunes hung upon the decisions made from that bench. The courthouse was the centerpiece of the county’s history, and I was honored to be a small part of it.
While all the courthouses had their charms, my personal favorite was always the Rhea County courthouse in Dayton. For me, it was the quintessential small-town southern courthouse. Atticus Finch would have felt right at home there, and, of course, it was where the famous Scopes “monkey” trial took place in 1925. I could almost see William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow ambling out of the courtroom on their way to lunch at the drugstore on the corner. It’s been years since I’ve been there, and I hope it’s not changed one bit.
Of course, law is no longer practiced in most of these courthouses. Now, we have justice centers. They are modern, well-lit, easily accessible, spacious, efficient, and…generic. One justice center is pretty much like any other, and for all their advantages, they lack the atmosphere, the individuality, that make county courthouses so special.
Which brings me to the point of this blog post. When I first learned that our offices in Cookeville were closing, I immediately began searching for a suitable alternative. At first, I looked to the Putnam County Justice Center, and while the judges and the court clerks were as nice as they could be and more than willing to accommodate me, there was no way they could guarantee I would have the same courtroom every time I held settlements or hearings. So, I continued my search.
I called Jeff Jones, the Putnam County Attorney, to see if he might know of a small courtroom somewhere in the county offices I might use. He asked if the courtroom in the old courthouse might do. He told me that right now it is only being used for County Commission meetings, and those occur at night. He didn’t think there’d be any problem to my holding court there one day a week.
Well, I jumped on that offer with both feet. I really can’t thank Mr. Jones and the County Mayor, Randy Porter, enough for the County’s gracious offer. It didn’t happen right away—there were i’s that had to be dotted and t’s to be crossed–but I can now officially announce that I will be conducting hearings at the Putnam County Courthouse, 300 E. Spring St., Third Floor, every Tuesday beginning in October. Unfortunately, settlements will have to wait a bit longer, but we’ll get there eventually.
I can’t wait for you all to come visit my “new” courtroom. And instead of the elevator, try to take the stairs with the wrought-iron railings. You can bet I will.