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Justice Center expands

By Staff | May 2, 2009

Lee County officials, judges and various others partook in a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Lee County Justice Center Expansion Project in downtown Fort Myers Friday.
The $100 million project includes a new 10-story tower with 17 new courtrooms and new judges’ chambers and a nearby parking garage. Additionally, the current Justice Center and the SunTrust building, where the State Attorney’s Office is currently housed, are being remodeled.
The SunTrust building is now referred to as the Justice Center Annex.
“The county courthouse is the hallmark of Americanism, which is local self-government,” said G. Keith Cary, chief judge for the 20th Judicial Circuit, during the ceremony Friday. “When you think about it, the courthouse is the linchpin of the local community. People get married here, divorced here, adopt children in this building, some unfortunately lose their children in this building, criminals are prosecuted here, people are sent to prison, some people are sent for release from jail and sent home from here. Civil disputes are settled or tried in these halls.”
Cary credited the success of the expansion project to the efforts of county officials and others involved in the planning and execution of the project.
“A building such as this could not be completed without the work of many people with great foresight and planning,” he said. “Speaking on behalf of all the judges who work here in Lee County I would like to give a very special thank you to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners for having the commitment to the citizens of Lee County to provide this space for the functioning of our court system.”
“Having started as a prosecutor here in 1976, it’s been interesting to watch the evolution,” said State Attorney Steve Russell. “Several of my former offices are now parking lots. I think we all know the time and dedication and work that’s been put into this project.”
“I’m very pleased on behalf of the Public Defender’s Office and my staff to be here for the opening and the commemoration of this tower,” said Public Defender Kathy Smith. “A lot has changed in 20 years that I have been here, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the integrity and professionalism that exists in this legal community. As your Public Defender I look forward to many years of seeking liberty and justice for all in these courtrooms.”
The ceremony took place on Law Day, a national day to celebrate the rule of law in America, and also on the 200th anniversary of the birth of American President Abraham Lincoln, according to County Commissioner Brian Bigelow, who was emcee for the event.
“I think it is much needed,” said Fort Myers Mayor Pro-tem Johnny Streets Jr. of the expansion project. “But I think you all as visionaries will have the opportunity to limit the amount of people that come in here to get sentenced, so we need to do some things in our communities also. I think that you, the same visionaries, can make that happen.”
The new and remodeled areas of the Lee County Justice Center reach a square footage of approximately 898,540 feet, and the building is designed with future growth in mind.
The Justice Center is located at 2000 Main Street.
The new tower is slated to open in June.