Thomas H. Davis, Jr.
Tenth J.D. Bar President and Wake County Bar Association
For many of us, there will be a once-in-a-professional-lifetime event this summer: the opening of the new Wake County Courthouse. Prior to the official opening of our facility, all members of the Tenth Judicial District Bar will have the opportunity to participate in a special luncheon and tour of this beautiful building. We will gather for an afternoon of celebration May 22, 2013. I believe when you have inspected our new venue, you will be as excited and impressed as I am. The place of the courthouse in American society is unique. If you travel in Europe, you will see many cities and towns anchored by public squares dominated by either a cathedral or a city hall. By contrast, in the United States the core of any state capital or county seat is the courthouse square. Traditionally, courthouses have been the cornerstone of the community, a source of local pride for their beauty as well as the center of social life and political activity. Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis F. Powell, Jr. once wrote: "public buildings often accurately reflect the belief, priorities, and aspirations of the people…. For much of our history, the courthouse has not served as just a local center of the law and government, but as a meeting ground, cultural hub, and social gathering place.” In recent decades, the design of courthouses has been influenced by specialization of use and increased security requirements. These concerns resulted in a design shift, creating courthouses which are more foreboding and monumental as opposed to welcoming and public. Professor Judith Resnik of Yale Law School has said the diminution of the courthouse’s community role is simply indicative of a larger trend, the widening disconnect between the judicial system and public life. According to Ms. Resnik, today’s justice system is undergoing a paradoxical shift. On one hand, Americans are more litigious than ever as evidenced by the number of litigants and the size and complexity of cases filed each year. At the same time, however, public trials are vanishing. They have been pushed aside to allow disputes to be heard in alternative forums. This paradox has created problems for the development and use of court spaces. Our new courthouse has successfully addresses the problems inherent in modern courthouses. I believe our building will become a true civic destination. It will engage and respond to the visitor’s needs as well as benefit the legal profession and county officials. Our courthouse will serve the public through the concept of multi-use. The building’s design welcomes those who seek administrative assistance from the Clerk of Court or Register of Deeds, who seek interaction with the county commissioners, or who need access to the courts themselves. Wake County’s courthouse facility is forward-looking with its LEED Certification. At the same time, it allows for the rediscovery of the building’s traditional role as the core of local community activities. This is a building which will be the source of civic pride and public use. It is important to thank those individuals who have been responsible for the concept and realization of our new facility. There are too many people to name in this column, but the County Commissioners need to be singled out for praise. At a time of economic difficulty, the Commissioners acted with great foresight. They pushed for the construction of this important building to the financial benefit of the county’s citizens. This enormous construction project has been completed on time and under budget at a savings of millions of dollars to local taxpayers. Special thanks are also due to the courthouse’s midwife, Judge Robert B. Rader, Chief District Court Judge. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say our new courthouse is Judge Rader’s child. Judge Rader has been instrumental in shepherding this project to a successful conclusion. He has also worked tirelessly with Judge Sidney Eagles and former bar president Nan Hannah to plan the luncheon celebration and facility tour members of the Tenth Judicial District will enjoy on May 22, 2013. I encourage all members of the Tenth Judicial District Bar and the Wake County Bar Association to participate in this historic celebration. Take a stroll through the new courthouse. While you are there, reflect on our splendid facility as a metaphor for our system of justice.