Mississippi appellate courts set to move into new building

Published 11:54 pm Saturday, February 2, 2008

Out with the modern. In with the traditional.

Mississippi is getting a new home for its Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

The judges and their staff are moving into the new Gartin Justice Building in downtown Jackson early this month. The still-unfinished building opens after nearly a decade of planning and more than five years of construction.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We’re over here every week and have been for months now, just double checking everything, staying on top of this,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Smith, one of the judges who helped architects plan the style of the new structure.

The new building has an Italian limestone exterior and Greek temple look that will blend nicely with the 105-year-old Capitol across the street.

The justice building that was constructed in the early 1970s and dedicated 1974 is a squatty structure with smoky glass walls and metal exterior beams that are now dotted with rust.

The new structure sits, for now, just behind the building it is replacing — an awkward juxtaposition that allows the Supreme Court justices to move straight from the old building to the new. The Court of Appeals judges are moving out of a rented building several blocks away.

The parts of the old Gartin building that can be seen from High Street are scheduled to be torn down in the next couple of years. Two stories that are not visible from street level will be renovated and used.

Aesthetic change is not the only reason for the move — or even the primary one.

The old Gartin building has been plagued with structural problems, including water leaks so severe that carpet has mildewed and law books and other equipment have been destroyed.

“It literally reached the point where we were growing mushrooms,” Jack Pool, the Supreme Court administrator, told journalists during a recent tour of the old building.

Smith said he is looking forward to working in the new building, but he emphasizes that it is not extravagant.

“It is strictly a practical building,” Smith said.

The new, 400-seat courtroom where the courts will hear oral arguments is significantly larger than the courtroom in the old building.

In the new building, the law clerks will have offices near the justices. In the old building, most of the clerks were at least one floor away.

The new building also has spacious conference rooms for the judges to use for meetings.

Moving crews will be at work in the old and new buildings Feb. 8-11, and most of the new building will be open to the public by Feb. 12.

According to the state Department of Finance and Administration, the state is spending $42.7 million for the first phase of the new justice building. The state will spend $14 million for the second phase that starts in March — demolition of the top floors of the old building and renovation of the remaining space. The project is scheduled to be finished by fall 2010.

Some pieces of furniture with historical value will move from the old Gartin building to the new. Among them is a century-old wooden desk in Smith’s office. Former chief justices have scrawled their signatures inside the desk’s top drawer.

The state attorney general’s office used to be in the Gartin building, but it moved in 2007 to the 20-story Sillers State Office Building about 100 yards to the east.

The justice building is named for Lt. Gov. Carroll Gartin, who died in December 1966, during his third term.

On the Net:

Mississippi Supreme Court, http://www.mssc.state.ms.us