BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Hurricane Michael hit the Federal Courthouse hard and federal officials didn’t want to rebuild it.
After a battle, the facility will stay in Bay County.
However, the courthouse is still closed as federal officials wait to move into the current Juvenile Justice Courthouse on 11th Street.
Federal cases are heating up though after U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe announced two federal indictments in the panhandle.
One of those impacting Bay County is out of Lynn Haven.
“Those very individuals are going to have a hard time finding lawyers in our community because I can tell you from talking to several of them, none of them want to go to Tallahassee or Pensacola,” said local attorney Waylon Graham.
Graham says this reason alone is turning a lot of local attorneys away from taking federal cases.
“I mean I’ll have people call me to try and hire me to do federal work and I will tell them, I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to go to Tallahassee or Pensacola and I’ll say ‘call Lawyer Smith or Lawyer Jones’ and they’ll say ‘well I already have and they said they’re not going either so yes, that is a problem right now and that is adversely impacting those clients,” Graham said.
Graham says the closed courthouse doors also impacts those who need representation.
“If you are able to find a lawyer to handle your case, that drive time is going to be on your bill so it can be very expensive if you hire a lawyer for 400-500 dollars an hour and then you got all that drive time in there, it will run the bill up big time. It’s just very very difficult and then if you wind up in a trial, you could wind up in a hotel room in Tallahassee or Pensacola for a few weeks because you can’t drive back and forth, you have to be right there.”
Graham says the number of federal attorneys in the area are also low.
“There’s probably 300 lawyers in Bay County and the number that does criminal is very very small. The number that does criminal, federal work, probably 5 or 10, somewhere in that range. Not very many, maybe 15 at the most,” Graham said.
And people who need it are forced to trust attorneys they don’t know.
“People like to go to doctors or lawyers that they know and they’re familiar with and now they’ve got to go over to Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Pensacola, Gainseville, Orlando, Tampa to find a lawyer and that’s very difficult and stressful.”
Federal officials will move into the Juvenile Courthouse one repairs are made to the building from Hurricane Michael.