Tuesday was a busy day on the Whitley District Court docket, the last day it would be held in Corbin.
“I’m very sad!” said Whitley District Court Judge Cathy Prewitt who presides over court proceedings in Corbin. “It is a sad day for the people of Corbin and northern Whitley County.”
Whitley County Circuit Court Clerk Gary Barton agreed.
“We have had court up there for 40 years now. It has been a service to the people in the northern part of the county and Corbin. We just really hate to see it go. We have tried hard to keep it open, but Frankfort just wasn’t on board with us to keep it open. It is a sad that we are no longer going to be holding court in Corbin,” Barton said.
Officials with the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts notified Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus in April of its final decision to move court proceedings to the judicial center in Williamsburg.
AOC officials initially informed Corbin officials of its intention to close the office in January.
In that letter, AOC officials stated that changes to the way driver’s licenses are issued through the Real ID Act, in particular the provision that would make licenses valid for eight years as opposed to four, would decrease traffic to Corbin, and other satellite offices across the state.
“We understand that this may be an inconvenience for citizens who visit the Corbin office and share your concerns about making this change,” AOC officials stated in the letter. “However, we want to assure the public that the Whitley County Office of Circuit Court Clerk in Williamsburg provides comprehensive services for driver’s licenses, District Court and Circuit Court, and has the capacity to adequately serve the citizens of Whitley County.”
Local officials contacted members of the state legislature to see what, if anything, they may be able to do to keep the Corbin office open.
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 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.”
In the letter, dated April 15, AOC officials cited security concerns as the reason for moving court proceedings.
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.
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.
“I’m very disappointed that AOC, the Administrative Office of the Courts, didn’t care enough about the people who live in this area to allow us to continue to serve them by having court in Corbin,” Prewitt said.
While the court will be moving, the clerk’s office will remain in Corbin and continue to process the paperwork for Corbin area cases.
Chief Deputy Clerk Donna Broughton said staff members would transport case files to Williamsburg as needed for court.
The staff members will also perform the clerk’s work when Judge Cathy Prewitt is holding court.
Broughton said the court schedule will remain the same for Corbin cases.
Juvenile court will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, with Corbin cases being heard on the first and third Monday of each month, and Williamsburg cases being held on the second and fourth Monday.
Civil matters, including domestic cases, who cause hearing, probates and small claims court will be held at 9 a.m. on Mondays.
Arraignments will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays with pretrial and preliminary hearings beginning at 10 a.m. Video arraignments for defendants in custody at the Whitley County Detention Center will be held Tuesday afternoon.
“It is exactly the same docket. The only thing we are doing is changing the times just a little bit,” Broughton said.
One change will be disability trial dates. They will be held at 1 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month as opposed to 9 a.m. on the third Wednesday.
“We tried to make it as easy as possible for everyone,” Broughton said noting the clerk’s office has sent out notices to those with pending cases denoting the new location, and any time changes.
Judge Prewitt’s courtroom will be Courtroom D, which is located on the second floor of the judicial center.
“People coming to court need to allow additional time to pass through security at the entrance,” Broughton noted.
Broughton said the clerk’s office in Corbin will continue to perform all of the duties it has in the past including:
- Accepting payments to the court
- Issuing and renewing driver’s licenses for residents of Whitley, Knox and Laurel Counties
- Providing information and assistance concerning district court.
Broughton and Prewitt each said the long-term plan is to keep the clerk’s office open, but the final decision rests with the AOC.
Barton said that he doesn’t know whether court might resume back in Corbin in the future.
“We will still make the effort to see what we can do. The issue is security of the courtroom itself. The expense to doing that, I don’t know that we can’t over come that,” he added.