Construction of Liberty County’s new court-at-law courtroom nearly complete

Liberty County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Wes Hinch (right) gives a tour of the new courtroom to Liberty City Councilman Neal Thornton.

The new courtroom for Liberty County Court at Law No. 2 is about a month away from completion. Contractors currently are finishing up electrical work and plastering; then the flooring, benches, judge’s bench, jury seating and benches will be put in place.

For County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Wes Hinch, it is exciting to watch the rapid pace of the work being performed by crews working for Myron McDowell Construction of Dayton.

“I am thrilled and excited about the new courtroom. I am very appreciative to commissioners court for the work they have done getting this ready and for consulting with an architect to build this nice courtroom for the citizens of Liberty County,” Hinch said.

Will Carter, Pct. 2 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski, Sheriff Bobby Rader and Liberty County Court at Law No. 2 Bailiff John Coleman look over plans for the new courtroom on June 22.

The courtroom, located on the west side of the Liberty County Courthouse in the space previously used by the Liberty County Tax Office, had some unique challenges for architect Kenny Burns. The room has two large, load-bearing columns that could not be removed, so Burns had to work around them.

Burns’ design calls for two office spaces at the entrance – one for the court coordinator and court clerk, and the other for a mediation room where attorneys can meet with clients on case resolutions before trial. At the entrance to the courtroom, a dividing wall has been installed to limit distractions and provide a measure of security. People can turn left or right to enter the courtroom.

Once inside the room, there will be four long benches that were purchased from a local church by Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski, who also had the forethought to order tables and chairs, and the judge’s bench, from Texas Correctional Institute, which uses inmate labor to create furnishings for government entities.

The judge’s bench will be installed on the north side of the room with a judge’s office and the jury room taking up both of the former vaults used by the tax office. Security features are being installed to ensure that Hinch, as judge, is able to be locked inside his office in the event of a threat in the courtroom.

One of the features of the new courtroom that separate it from other courtrooms in the courthouse is that it will have state-of-the-art technology for displaying photos, videos and other documents during trials and hearings.

“There are a lot of neat features. The technology is there because we were basically able to build this courtroom from scratch. It was an open space, so we could add amenities that will make trials operate more seamlessly,” Hinch said. “As a former prosecutor and an attorney, I know how important this will be to other attorneys. It will be nice for them to come in and immediately plug into the system.”

The new courtroom is about 30 days from completion, according to Hinch.

“A month from now, we will be holding hearings in the courtroom. It was a 60-day project and they started on May 25,” he said.

The County Court at Law No. 2 was approved by the Texas Legislature in July 2019 and signed into existence by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Hinch, who previously was the county attorney and a private practice attorney, is the first person ever elected to serve as judge for the new court. He was sworn into office in January.

With COVID-19 still a concern and the courtroom under construction, Hinch has been unable to preside over a jury trial as of yet. However, he has a jury trial slated for the first week of September.

“We have still been very busy. We are 150 days in and have already handled 500 hearings by video conference,” he said.

This photo shows the current interior of the Liberty County Court at Law No. 2 courtroom. The room has two large supporting pillars that proved to be a challenge in the design.

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