Washington County Courts: An Overview
What this project is and why I'm doing it
I have been in the Kings County Court, my hometown county courthouse, exactly once – to report for my two days of jury duty last summer. After being selected for a jury in a taxi-hits-bicyclist case, the plaintiff and defendant promptly settled before trial and I walked away having made $80 for my service.
County courthouses are one of the lesser-visited civic spaces in the everyday lives of the American public. We don't frequent them as we might a public park or the public library. What goes on inside these buildings, though, is some of the most important business of our democracy: decisions about monumental matters like housing, domestic relations, and peoples' very liberty.
So this summer, I've set out to explore (with very generous support from the Lawrence Levien Fellowship at Williams College): what are these places like across the United States? What do our county courthouses look like? How are they designed? How do we interact with and within these spaces? What are the histories of these places, and how do they enter into the larger histories of the communities they serve? How do the problems and potential, perils and possibilities of the U.S. justice system play out in microscale?
To frame this question, I've looked to the most common county name in America: Washington County. Thirty Washington Counties (and one Washington Parish) lay scattered about the United States, in rural wheat-producing regions of Colorado, in sleek suburbs of Portland, in small New England towns, and everywhere in between. I'll be visiting ten of these counties, seeking to understand: what does court look like across America?
Along the journey, I'll be keeping this blog – a traveller's diary of these courts and places. I hope you'll find something of interest here as I go.