Upgrade: Open house to mark renovations

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 By Paul Janczewski

Legal News
 
For the first time in history, two federal district court judges will occupy the courthouse at 600 Church Street in Flint, following extensive renovations to reconfigure a smaller courtroom.
 
And to mark the occasion, an open house and courtroom dedication will be held there on Monday, Oct. 7 at 2:30 p.m. as Chief Judge Gerald Rosen convenes many of the other judges from the United State District Court for the Eastern District of the Michigan at its monthly meeting.

“This will be the first time we’ll have two federal judges in Flint,” said U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith, who sits in Flint with U.S. District Magistrate Judge Michael Hluchaniuk. U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Berg recently joined the pair in Flint.

Flint has long had a single judge presiding here, as well as a magistrate judge for many years. 

“But we think we can better serve the community and the bench by having a second judge,” Goldsmith said. “And we are running out of space in the Detroit court.” 

The headquarters for the Eastern District of Michigan is located in downtown Detroit.

Berg said the space that is now his chambers, courtroom and staff offices “were not in very good condition” and were mainly used for visiting judges. 

“So they decided to renovate it, update it and make it more useable, especially the courtroom.”

The Flint building has had an historic run in the annals of the court history, according to a 2012 book called “The United State District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. People, Law and Politics,” by David Gardner Chardavoyne. The book is a legal history of the court, from 1837-2010, and includes an overview of the politics and culture of Michigan for about 175 years. While the federal judicial system was established in 1789, the author said the first federal court in Michigan began in 1837.

In the book, Chardavoyne points out that a federal court in Flint was discussed by civic leaders as early as 1927. Flint, Saginaw and Bay City had been trying to land a federal court for years until one was placed in 1887 in Bay City, then a thriving lumber industry town with a growing population. But by the 1920s, Flint also had a tremendous growth spurt with the opening of a series of General Motors plants.

While Congress offered Flint a new post office in 1927, local officials were rejected in also asking for a courtroom, but by 1950, when a bill created many new federal judgeships, interest in placing a court grew, and by 1954, Flint gained statewide backing for a court. By 1960, a new post office was built in Flint, leaving the old one at Church Street available, and eventually it opened in 1962, housing two courtrooms, one for a U.S. District Court judge, and one for a bankruptcy judge, as well as a U.S. Attorney’s Office and Probation Department. After a slow start and objections from some that it was a waste to have federal courts in Bay City and Flint, cases there steadily but slowly increased.

That still holds true, said Goldsmith. 

“We do have a busy criminal docket,“ he said. “Mine is nearly twice as large as the average criminal docket” of some other judges in the Eastern District. He said adding another judge in Flint “will help better manage the criminal docket and help speed matters along.”

During a recent visit, Berg proudly showed off his new surroundings. The renovations, which took about 10 months to complete, included reconfiguring of his chambers, an area for his law clerks and case manager, and the courtroom.

Berg was sworn in in January, and moved into the Flint office in June. Crews are still putting the final touches here and there, but for the most part, the renovations are now complete.

“It now has a lot of high-tech features,” Berg said of the courtroom. 

The counsel table has a built-in computer screen, and a pull-down projector screen for jurors that enables attorneys to plug in their laptops and display evidence for jurors that is easily visible.

The courtroom features special adjustable lighting, and every aspect of the high-tech devices can be controlled from his bench, including blacking out any evidence from attorneys he deems are not to be seen by the jury.

The courtroom is large but comfortable, and soon, new panels will be placed on the walls for better acoustics for everyone. There is plenty of seating for jurors and court spectators. And the spacious jury room has been upgraded.

Plus, a new podium for attorneys was installed, which raises and lowers, and also allows for attorneys to plug in electronic devices from there to use in trial presentation.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Berg said during the tour.

Goldsmith said the space was much smaller before, and was vused as an auxiliary courtroom or for grand jury meetings.

Berg said he believes it’s good for the community to now have two federal judges in Flint. 

“It makes us more efficient and responsive as a court and enables us to handle the docket more effectively.”

Goldsmith agrees. 

“Judge Berg and I, along with the entire bench, are delighted that the state court house is being upgraded to better serve the community here in Flint, as well as the bar.”