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New courthouse dedicated

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County administrator Charles Culley (at the podium) opened the program on Dec. 3 at the dedication of the new Middlesex County Courthouse in Saluda. Above, from left, are Judge T.B. Hoover; Middlesex General District Court Judge R. Bruce Long; Middlesex Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judge Isabel Hall Atlee; Middlesex Circuit Court Judge William H. Shaw III; Attorney and keynote speaker Roger Hopper; Kenneth W. Williams, chairman of the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors; and pastor Chauncey E. Mann Jr. For more photos of the ceremony, visit SSentinel.com.
(Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry S. Chowning

The new Middlesex County Courthouse and the courtroom in the historic courthouse were dedicated at a formal ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 3, inside the new courthouse.

The new courthouse was completed in September 2007, and the historic courtroom in the old courthouse has been remodeled and is being used as a meeting room for supervisors, the school board and other county agencies.

The Honorable Judge William H. Shaw III requested that Roger G. Hopper of Urbanna be the guest speaker at the ceremony. Hopper is a former Middlesex County Commonwealth’s Attorney who has practiced law in the county for 46 years. Hopper has seen a lot of change over those years, and he related some humorous past events in his speech.

In one story, Hopper recalled a reaction of a defeated sheriff’s candidate who had received only 20 votes in the election. Even though citizens and candidates already knew the results of the election, many gathered at the historic courtroom to hear the official announcement.

The defeated sheriff’s candidate walked into Judge Lewis Jones’ courtroom with a pistol strapped to his side, said Hopper. Judge Jones snapped at the man, “What are you doing? You know you can’t do this. Why have you brought a gun into my courtroom?”

The man replied, “Judge, your honor, when a man hasn’t got any more friends than I do, he better wear a gun!”

Hopper’s speech was peppered with light humor, but the heart of his talk was the way he conveyed the importance of the county court system to the people of Middlesex.

“Law is man’s attempt to achieve order in society and justice in the proper ordering of things within society,” he said. “A court is an institution where justice is administered.

“A courthouse is a place in which judicial functions are exercised, and a courtroom is a place where judicial proceedings are conducted, and in which the whole gamut of human emotions are played out,” said Hopper.

“From the years immediately before secession from the Union, the War Between the States, the long misery of Reconstruction, a Great Depression, two world wars and up to the present, [there have been in the court] murders, robberies, assaults, breaches of contract, personal injuries, boundary line and land title disputes, divorces and much more—I mean knock down and drag out!”

Hopper spoke of “March Term of Court” when the courthouse green was crowded with “a throng of people in front of and on the courthouse green selling things such as horses, mules, automobiles . . . it was almost like a fair.

“In the days before television . . . the courtroom was a major source of entertainment all over this county,” he said. “When a juicy case was being tried, the courtroom was packed—people came from all parts of the county and sometimes other counties to see and hear the grand spectacles.

“As a matter of fact, the Middlesex County Courtroom was the largest in the circuit, which included Gloucester, Mathews, King William and King and Queen,” he said.

“We come here today to pay homage to the transmogrified old, and to dedicate the new—this wonderful courthouse—to the citizens of this county and of this Commonwealth, remembering that it is emblematic of the courts in our society being independent bastions for the protections of the citizens in their person, their private property, their liberty and their rights as free men under our laws—all that, right here in our own Middlesex County,” said Hopper. “God bless you, God bless our county, and God bless our Commonwealth!”

posted 12.10.2008

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