Smith County Commissioners Approve New Courtroom For Judge

Smith County commissioners grant a judge's request for a new courtroom. Judge Carole Clark says she can no longer work in what she called an "unsafe" environment. Ever since the Smith County Courthouse shooting, Judge Clark has been concerned, saying she works in conditions unlike any other judge in the court.

"The situation in my courtroom is unlivable, unworkable and I can no longer do it," she said to Smith County Commissioners during their weekly meeting this morning. The main reason she wants a new courtroom is security. "I now walk across the litigants to the stairwell and go up to my courtroom, where I walk across the litigants to my door." Some of the litigants, she says, are "belligerent and angry." Judge Clark says, "I just can't deal with it anymore. It's too dangerous."

Another reason Judge Clark wants to move to the new courtroom is overcrowding. Judge Clark says she's had nearly 2,500 cases this year -- one thousand more than six years ago. "When you cram 72 people in a space that fits 42, and 50 percent of them are angry, mad or on methamphetamine, you've got a mixture of a soup and it is bad."

The plan is to move Judge Clark's courtroom to a much-larger room on the first floor of the courthouse. The room would not only seat about 40 more people, it would also give Judge Clark much easier and secure access to her bench.

During the discussion, Judge Becky Dempsey said, "I respect what you're saying, but as practical matter we have to look at all those things." Judge Clark responded, "Well, as a practical matter I'm telling you I cannot walk through the litigants twice. No judge in this courthouse will do that. You've not asked that of anybody. You've only asked that of me and I can't do it."

In the end, Smith County Commissioners agreed, Judge Clark would get her new courtroom. The judge's new courtroom is expected to be ready to move in by mid September.

Oralia Ortega, reporting.