Crowded court raises questions over safety

A crowd assembles for Rock Hill municipal court Dec. 18 in the courtroom at the Rock Hill Law Center.
A crowd assembles for Rock Hill municipal court Dec. 18 in the courtroom at the Rock Hill Law Center.

Inside Judge Jane Modla's courtroom, the show is about to start.

"We have 320 cases on the docket," Modla tells a room packed with people facing charges on everything from speeding to carrying marijuana. "There will be a lot going on, but we want you to have your day in court. I need everybody to behave, and be quiet, so you can hear what's going on."

For the next three hours on this Thursday night, streams of police officers, administrators and defendants shuffle in and out -- circulating between this room and two other makeshift spaces where court also is held.

Next door in a converted jury room, a dozen people sit elbow-to-elbow, waiting for their names to be called by Judge David Guyton. On the opposite side, a converted office provides just enough room for Judge Ray Long to sit behind a desk facing a single row of people seated against a wall.

The cramped quarters have stirred frustrations and concerns over safety at a time when Rock Hill's municipal court system faces growing demands.

Court employees and others are ramping up efforts to get an upgraded facility with more space, better traffic flow and, most importantly, a second courtroom.

"Nobody has a place to even go and talk," Modla said in an interview before the recent 320-case court session. "We're in the middle of a jury trial, and I've got people going in and out of bond hearings. It's disruptive. I try to keep them (the jury) concentrated on the trial."

'Substantially inadequate'

Those frustrations are reflected in a new report that says the city's law enforcement building is "substantially inadequate" and "not designed to meet the 2008 needs of the (police) department."

In the report, police consultant Carroll Buracker recommended hiring more police officers and upgrading the law building to keep pace with a city population now estimated at more than 65,000.

City officials are preparing to act on the recommendations. A list of options could be presented to the Rock Hill City Council with