The main courtroom in the recently renovated York County Courthouse has not been used for trials since the building reopened in late January because of a hearing problem.
Not court hearings, but ear hearing.
The main courtroom is a cavernous room in the historic 1914 building, and people who need to hear what’s going on in court can’t hear what’s being said. Court reporters and judges held initial hearings earlier this year but found they could not hear what lawyers and witnesses were saying.
There are new microphones at the lawyer tables, judge’s bench, witness stand and lectern, among other sound system improvements. However, even with those amenities it’s still difficult to hear, said David Hamilton, York County clerk of court in charge of the courthouse.
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A transcript is crucial to preserving the court record, and all people in court, including jurors who sit off to the side of the room need to hear what is being said, Hamilton said.
“We found we would not be able to have a trial until it was fixed,” Hamilton said.
York County officials recognized the problem after an initial hearing in the courtroom and hired a consultant for $3,900, said county spokesperson Trish Startup.
County officials are working to fix the acoustics, but the courtroom still is not being used.
It’s unclear when the first round of improvements – adding sound absorbing materials – will be completed. County officials are still getting cost estimates, Startup said. If initial work is not sufficient, more improvements could include additional wall panels, ceiling panels and other acoustical treatment, Startup said.
County officials decided to first put upholstery on wooden benches in the court gallery, along with adding acoustical wall panels at the back of the courtroom.
Since the courthouse reopened in January after about $10 million in renovations, civil trials have been held at Moss Justice Center in York, where criminal court is held. Jurors for civil court all year have been summoned to the historic courthouse, but then told to go to the Moss Justice Center about three miles east of the courthouse.
The York County Courthouse has been at the center of a controversy over the Confederate flag not being returned to the courtroom since the building reopened.
The money for improvements comes from the original construction budget for renovations, Startup said. Estimates for the cost of improvements are expected by the end of the month.