All rise!

Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2024

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JACKSON – “I welcome you to the newest courthouse in the state of North Carolina,” said Laquitta Green Cooper as she stood in front of the newly-constructed building.

Green Cooper, who serves as Northampton County’s Clerk of Court, welcomed a large crowd to the ribbon-cutting celebration held on Feb. 26 to mark the completion of the project. She acknowledged that this vision originally began with her predecessor, Venus Spruill, and now-retired judge Alfred Kwasikpui several years ago.

The new Northampton County Courthouse, located at 128 East Jefferson Street, Jackson, next to the State Employee’s Credit Union, is a 27,400 sq. ft. building that houses two courtrooms (for District and Superior Court) along with several offices and a multipurpose room. It replaces the old courthouse which has been in operation since 1858.

After the ribbon was cut on Monday morning, the crowd gathered inside the Superior Courtroom for remarks from several proud officials.

“What you’re in now is a miracle. This has not been an easy task,” said Northampton Commissioner Board Chair Charles Tyner.

Acknowledging the support from current and former county commissioners, Tyner explained that he traveled to both Raleigh and Washington, DC in attempts to secure funding for the project, with options for state or federal appropriations or a USDA loan.

In 2021, lawmakers in Raleigh passed the state budget which included a $14 million appropriation for Northampton County to construct its new courthouse.

Northampton County Clerk of Court Laquitta Green Cooper (left) accepts the keys to the new courthouse from County Manager Julian Phillips while Commissioner Melvettta Broadnax Taylor looks on. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

Michael Wray, who represents District 27 in the state House of Representatives, recalled how county officials worked towards making the new courthouse a reality.

“Northampton County came to the General Assembly. They presented us documentation. They had a vision. They had the land and architect plans,” Wray explained.

“This is definitely a blessing for our community, and I’m glad to be able to play a little part,” he continued. “But it’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about us. Working together works.”

Superior Court Judge Cy Grant, who presided over Monday’s event, spoke about the need for a new facility.

“In the old courthouse up the street, that courtroom is probably the most beautiful courtroom I have ever presided in,” he said. “But we all know that courthouse is more than 150 years old. It just was no longer functional for our needs as we went forward into the 21st century.”

The old courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and there are restrictions on what kinds of renovations can be made to it. That meant that the building had a number of safety concerns and other issues which could not be easily addressed.

Tim Oakley, from Oakley Collier Architects said, “this is a fully functional modern courthouse.”

He noted that the design includes several layers of security for the safety of staff who work there and citizens who visit.

Several other special guests spoke during the event to congratulate Northampton County for its accomplishment.

Paul Newby, Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, was among the featured guests at Monday’s event in Jackson. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby centered his remarks on treating people equally in the justice system.

“Every person who walks through that door is created in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and honor. But there will be justice too,” Newby said.

“May God bless this place. May it be a place where everyone is treated the same with equal justice under the law. May that be an experience everyone has when they enter this courthouse,” he concluded.

Eddie Buffaloe, the Secretary of NC Department of Public Safety and a Northampton County native, invoked the phrase “may it please the court” – a phrase that is often uttered in courtrooms – as he wished success for the new courthouse.

“May it please the court that this is not just a facility. It’s a place for liberty and justice for all,” he said.

In his remarks, US Representative Don Davis said people in eastern North Carolina, including Northampton County, deserve to see the benefits of their tax dollars here locally, and he hoped to see more resources directed to the eastern part of the state.

Rep. Davis had returned just that morning from a trip to Ukraine, and he noted that justice and other core principals should never be taken for granted here in our own country.

“The verdict is in, and the verdict says that you have done a great job in upholding freedom and pulling this community together on this occasion,” he concluded.

County Manager Julian Phillips handed the keys to the building over to Green Cooper, who then wrapped up the event with a few more remarks of her own.

She noted that opening the new courthouse was a historic occasion, and one she will remember as a very memorable day of her career.

Green Cooper reminded the crowd that the courthouse isn’t just for those who have broken the law and have to appear before a judge. It serves citizens who come to handle a loved one’s estate or to sign adoption papers or to work out child support or any number of other services provided by the court system. The new courthouse, she emphasized, will ensure that both visitors and staff remain safe.

“We will take great care of this courthouse. And we promise that we will continue to serve you and serve you well,” she concluded.

Others who took part in Monday’s event included Commissioner Kelvin Edwards who recognized elected officials in attendance, Commissioners Geneva Faulkner and Melvetta Broadnax Taylor who provided introductions to speakers, and Assistant County Manager Itia Robertson who read a letter from former Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who was unable to attend.

Rev. Mark Barfield provided the invocation prayer and Commissioner Ed Martin provided the benediction prayer.

Attendees were given tours of the courthouse following the event and were treated to a catered lunch.

With the courthouse construction completed, attention now turns to the planned annex building which will be built on the same lot. The county received a $5 million federal appropriation for its construction. Once completed, the annex is expected to house a number of county offices, including administration, the finance department, Register of Deeds, and the tax department.