A fundamental difference between a small town and a small city is that small towns, regardless of their population, still have courthouses whereas small cities, in their hurry to morph into bedroom communities for some urbane metropolis, have justice centers.
Justice centers are grand buildings, integrating glass, steel and stone into a monument to bureaucratic judicial efficiency providing one stop shopping for all things legal from the sheriff to the recorder and from the courtroom to the jail cell. These are places designed for those who assume that the efficiencies of consolidation & modernization make up for chronic underfunding. Here there is a cold sterility to the environment that seems to make courtesy appear artificial and channels the mass of humanity that enters its walls into tired, well-worn roles.
Courthouses, on the other hand, are quiet buildings sitting in silent dignity on the edge of the town square; more cathedral than monument. Newer buildings housing the sheriff, the recorder and the jail sit, like handmaidens, behind and to the side. Courthouses were built out of pride and are maintained out of tradition. There is a warmth within those weathered walls and worn and paneled walls that encourages courtesy – more as an act of devotion than a gentile gesture – and welcomes those who enter.
Recently I’ve had similar matters in both a small city justice center and a small town courthouse. In the former, the matter was concluded in a matter 10 tense minutes – a business transaction handled in the crisp efficiency only a streamlined & work-flowed process can provide. In the later, the matter took about twice as long, but along the way, I got caught up on what’s new in town, the weather, and the health of a friend’s dog. Both matters were billed as fixed fees, only one made me glad to have put on my lawyer suit that day.