Lawmakers hear emotional stories of tornado impact on Graves courts

Courthouse, jail, other facilities devastated

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The House Judiciary Committee met for the first time on Wednesday during the 2022 General Assembly. Representative Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, sat alongside Circuit Judge Kevin Bishop, Chief District Court Judge Deborah Crooks, Graves County Sheriff Jon Hayden, and Circuit Court Clerk Emily Ward Buzanis while they gave testimony about the devastating extent of the damage done to the Graves County Judicial System.

Chairman of the Judiciary Committee C. Ed Massey visited the town of Mayfield after the devastating tornado, he said, “As legislators we are here to govern our communities, to provide help where we can and what greater inspiration to help some folks who are really trying to recover from what was just so tragic.”

Circuit Judge Kevin Bishop received a call around midnight on December 11, 2021, to try to make it to the county courthouse to see what damage had been done. “It looked like a warzone. The place where I had practiced for over 34 years was utterly destroyed,” said The Honorable Bishop “The model of our great seal of Kentucky says ‘United We Stand, Divided We Fall’; the seal on my courtroom is lost in the rubble. I am asking you to help us, as a different branch of government, with your full support, so we can stand united and help our citizens get back to all the myriad of legal issues that are coming forth from this horrific tragedy.”

During the meeting, unrecognizable photos were displayed of the damage throughout the district. Judge Bishop mentioned the two flags that stood behind his chair, the American Flag and the Kentucky State Flag, were recovered by two National Guardsman and given back to Judge Bishop. They could not recover much because of the danger the rubble posed and what they could salvage was a couple of laptops, water damaged files, the two flags, and the bell that hung in the court’s clock tower. Because of the extensive damage, the court system had to be completely shut down.

Graves County Sheriff Jon Hayden also spoke about the extensive damage the tornado has done to the judicial system. He said, “Our county jail was also damaged beyond repair, which in turn required all of our county inmates to be transferred to out-of-county jails, some of which are more than an hour away. The issue will continue to be a huge burden for our agency, as all inmates will have to be transported back to Graves County for court proceedings and then taken back to the respective correction facilities.”

Sheriff Hayden mentioned how difficult it was to drive to the courthouse because of the debris in the roads. The county jail was damaged beyond repair, and inmates had to be re-located to jails up to an hour away. They have found it to be quite difficult to have arraignments and hear cases when inmates are not located in the county. The Sheriff put out a statewide request for law enforcement assistance, and officers from all over the state came to the assistance of the Graves County police department.

Judge Deborah Crooks spoke about how difficult it has been to get back up and running and how important a temporary court house will be for the Graves County judicial system. She said “We need your help, we need it now, we need it yesterday, as quickly as we can get that temporary space retrofitted and set up for court, that’s what we need. We need at least one courtroom as quickly as we can. I am asking this for my colleagues and for my community.”

Currently, the judges are working out of a rented space, hearing cases virtually. They were able to get back to work in 20 workdays, but are not even near the caseload and capability of what they were doing before the tornado. Some country jails do not have the capability to do virtual hearings, so it has been difficult to move forward with some of their current cases. They are requesting the state government allocate $3 million in order to build a temporary court house so they can get back to their vital work.

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