Thursday Aug 07 2008
Lincoln courthouse now a closed case
By: Cheri March The News Messenger
Roseville justice center takes over for small county courts
To those who overlook its small identifying sign – which is easy to do while traveling through town – the modest brick and wood structure on G Street simply looks abandoned. And, as of July 15, that’s actually what it is. Court adjourned for the final time with very little fanfare last month in the Lincoln Courthouse at 453 G St., as operations of city’s only justice center – as well as courts in Colfax and Auburn’s DeWitt Center – were moved to the new Bill Santucci Justice Center in Roseville. “It’s time to put those out to pasture,” said Superior Court Presiding Judge Larry D. Gaddis at a June dedication ceremony for the facility. Consolidating services into the 108,000-square-foot, nine-court center off Industrial Boulevard is meant to increase convenience for South Placer residents, who stand to benefit from the central location, roomy reception area for jury candidates and line-shortening electronic ticket waiting system. Administrative and legal self-help services will also be housed at the new site. Losing the Lincoln court isn’t exactly a historical tragedy. Though the building dates back to at least the 1930s, it didn’t house a court until 1965. And even then, it was mostly used to handle traffic and small civil matters, according to Placer County Superior Court Judge Richard Couzens. Maybe the last case of public interest in Lincoln was the sexual battery trial of former Lincoln planning commissioner Dennis Olsen in March. Olsen, who was arrested on suspicion of inappropriately touching female clients at his spa, was acquitted on seven of eight charges, with a mistrial declared on the last charge. Documents show the building was first erected as a shared PG&E office and Lincoln News Messenger press room in 1935. Imprints of printing presses are still visible above the door, despite the thick layers of aged, salmon-hued paint. Whether it was built from scratch or remodeled from the site’s original structure – the city’s mortuary – is unknown. Records of an official court in Lincoln don’t even appear until the early 1950s, when proceedings were held in the International Order of Odd Fellows building across from Beermann’s, said Lincoln historian Jerry Logan. That doesn’t mean justice wasn’t previously served in the city. “Court went on 100 years before that – there just wasn’t a special courthouse,” Logan said. But without a permanent location in place, history gets a bit hazy, explained Placer County Court Historian Lori Smith, whose job is to research court history by locating old court sites and judges. “In the early days, (justices of the peace) were just miners and nomads,” she said. “Trying to track down who they really were is hard.” In the first 100 years of Placer County courts, there were 400 justices of the peace, though only one superior court position. Members of the community were elected as justices and were expected to hold court in their homes or businesses. “They really weren’t treated well during the first 100 years,” Smith said. “I feel it’s important to acknowledge them because they shaped Placer County.” In 1898, for instance, Lincoln shop owner Thomas Burrell Harper conducted proceedings from his variety store at 515 G St., now home to Sweetwater Cottage. His successor held court there as well. Of course, the pasts of Placer County’s small courts don’t hold a candle to the historic Courthouse in Auburn, which will retain some court services after roof repairs and refurbishments are completed in the next few months, she said. Construction on the Auburn courthouse was completed in 1898; a remodel was finished in 1990. “When it was remodeled, we were all so proud,” Smith said. “I look at it as history. Now I like to imagine what everyone will feel about our courts 100 years from now.” Smith said she hopes to eventually publish the complete story of county justice on Placer County Superior Court’s Web site.