Judge urges different site for new fed courthouse

Friday, October 11, 2002

BENTON, Ill. -- The chief federal judge for southern Illinois wants the government to pick another town for a new $70 million courthouse because he said Benton is too white.

Benton is the county seat for Franklin County, which counted only 72 blacks among nearly 40,000 residents in the 2000 census. Judge G. Patrick Murphy said plans to rebuild the courthouse should be shifted south toward Marion, where there are more minorities.

"I think it is fundamentally wrong to send the resources of the federal government, particularly in regard to the court system, to a community that is not diverse and is not enthusiastic about letting our employees participate fully in community life," Murphy said.

Murphy said he has discussed his concerns with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and plans to talk to U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill. If he can't convince them to move the courthouse, he said, Benton and Franklin County officials should promise that minorities will be welcome in courthouse jobs.

Murphy's Southern District is based in a main courthouse in East St. Louis. District human resources officer Walter Duncan said eight of 61 court employees there are minorities.

No minorities work at the Benton branch.

Benton Mayor Patricia Bauer said the courthouse should stay.

"We are a very small community and I don't apologize for Benton's racial makeup, but I look at the future and say that the courthouse needs to stay here," she said.

East St. Louis has few white residents, Bauer said.

"We have two very different communities to serve the federal court system. And I don't see an effort to move the courthouse out of East St. Louis," she said.

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