The ping pong match between the City of Corbin and the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) over the Whitley County Circuit Court Clerk’s office in Corbin continued this week when the AOC notified the city it would keep the office open on a limited basis.
According to a letter sent to Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus, dated April 15, AOC officials cited security concerns as the reason for moving court and all of the court-related functions of the office to the main office at the judicial center in Williamsburg.
AOC officials stated a security assessment performed in February revealed several deficiencies, noting that upgrades costing between $93,000 and $127,000 would be necessary.
“That estimate is dependent on two factors:
- “Whether the Whitley County sheriff will continue to transport inmates to Corbin from the Whitley County Jail (also at a cost to taxpayers) or if equipment will be installed to make video arraignments and hearings possible.”
- “Whether the facility installs the delayed-egress exit doors.”
Arraignments are currently held via video from the jail when scheduled at either Corbin or Williamsburg.
AOC officials noted there are multiple public entrances to the Corbin building and no system in place to screen people entering the building for weapons/contraband.
In addition, there are no security cameras.
State Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and State Rep Regina Bunch Huff, R-Williamsburg, were able to secure $50,000 to fund the office through June 30, 2020.
“The first thing was to keep it from shutting down,” Stivers said. “That gives us an additional year to work through this plus another legislative session.”
The funds were allocated in an amendment to HB 335 with additional language requiring the AOC to keep the Corbin office open.
“The Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts shall not close or relocate operations of any satellite or extension facilities that it maintains in the City of Corbin the effective date of this Act for the 2018-2020 fiscal biennium,” the bill states.
“The provisions of this section shall expire after June 30, 2020.”
Huff said when the legislation was crafted, the goal was to keep the office and court proceedings in Corbin.
“It is to stay as is,” Huff said.
“It is frustrating that they are trying to scale it back,” she said.
Corbin City Manager Marlon Sams said he was not surprised by the AOC’s decision and would be speaking with City Attorney Bob Hammons to see what, if any, legal options were available.
“Hopefully, we can sit down with the AOC and work something out to keep the entire office and the court in Corbin,” Sams said.
The courtroom is used for district court. Civil and criminal matters, along with juvenile court, are heard there.
“If it was its own court system, it would be in the top half of the state in terms of the number of cases,” said Whitley Circuit Court Clerk Gary Barton.
Whitley District Court Judge Cathy Prewitt holds court in Corbin.
“It would be a travesty for the people in northern Whitley County not to have court in Corbin,” Prewitt said adding that it may yet change.
“It ain’t over, till its over,” Prewitt said using the phrase made famous by legendary baseball player Yogi Berra.
The AOC initially announced it would be closing the office and moving everything to Williamsburg.
In addition to the security concerns, AOC officials stated in the initial letter that the changes to the state’s driver’s licenses through the Real ID Act, would decrease driver’s license renewal traffic to the office, as new licenses would be valid for eight years as opposed to four.
The Corbin office is unique among such offices across the state in that it provides driver’s license renewal not only for residents of Whitley County, but neighboring Knox and Laurel counties as well.
Approximately 10,000 driver’s licenses are issued or renewed at the Corbin office for residents of the three counties.
Finally, AOC officials said it would be financially prudent to close the office.
It currently leases the space in the old Corbin City Hall from the city at an annual cost of $100,000.
AOC officials noted in the most recent letter that it has similar satellite offices to the Madison County office in Berea and the Hardin County office in Radcliff. However, the AOC was negotiating with the local governments to use the respective office space, rent free.