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The people's courthouse

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Local, state officials gather to celebrate new judicial center

By Stephen Lega

John D. Minton Jr., chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, attended the groundbreaking for the Marion County Judicial Center in 2009.

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And Thursday, he told the hundreds of people who packed into the district courtroom that he was glad to be back for the dedication of the building.

"This building belongs to the people of Marion County," Minton said.

The judicial center has been in use since August, but the official dedication was postponed so local and state officials could be in attendance.

The $11 million project was a significant investment by government in downtown Lebanon, Minton said, adding that even the least discerning citizens could not fail to be impressed with the tech-savvy and modern design.

"There is no doubt that our world has changed enormously ... since Marion County built its first courthouse in 1835," he said.

The Marion County Fiscal Court is the owner of the building, but the Administrative Office of the Courts is paying for the center through funds approved in 2006 by the General Assembly.

Several people were involved in making the project a reality, but State Sen. Jimmy Higdon explained the role the late Marion County Judge/Executive Dave Hourigan played in winning the funds for the project.

In 2006, Higdon was state representative and he said he would go to Hourigan for advice, since Hourigan had preceded him in the Kentucky House of Representatives. He said Hourigan had told him to make sure Marion County was included in the courthouse project funding in that year's budget.

When Marion County wasn't on the list of 16 counties, he sought out then-State Sen. Dan Kelly (who is now a circuit judge). Kelly said he could work to get Marion County included when the budget came to the Senate, but he encouraged Higdon to talk to then-Chief Justice Joseph Lambert.

Lambert asked Higdon how well he worked with Speaker of the House Jody Richards. Higdon said they worked well together, but thought Hourigan could be more helpful. Higdon and Lambert called Hourigan for assistance, and Hourigan said he would call Richards.

Higdon left Lambert's office to go to the House floor. When Higdon arrived, Richards summoned Higdon to the front. Richards had spoken with Hourigan and the Marion County center would be included in the budget.

"That call from Judge Hourigan kept us on track," Higdon said.

Hourigan passed away before the groundbreaking occurred, but his successor, John G. Mattingly, helped oversee the project both as county judge/executive and the chairman of local project development board.

The project development board members - Mattingly, Magistrate Larry Caldwell, attorney Kandice Engle-Gray, Senior Judge Doughlas George, attorney Elmer George, Circuit Judge Dan Kelly, AOC representative Melissa Knight, Marion Circuit Clerk Kim May, and District Judge Connie Phillips - made the decisions about the location of the center, approved the designs and any changes along the way.

Doughlas George thanked several people for their contributions to the project including the late Vic Peterson of the AOC, who died while the project was underway. He also thanked the City of Lebanon, both for selling the property where the center is now located and for reworking M.L. King Avenue to accommodate traffic near the center.

He added that the project board members had some heated discussions along the way, but the finished project is user-friendly.

"This building should serve the people of Marion County for many, many years to come," George said.