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Vidalia Convention Center turned into makeshift courtroom

VIDALIA — Visitors at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center are sure to scratch their heads when they enter the doors at the front of the building for the next three weeks.

Since Tuesday, the convention center has been transformed into a courtroom to host a Catahoula Parish civil court case.

With chairs and podiums aligned just like they would be in court, the convention center has signs leading to the back of the building letting regular visitors know there is a trial.

Retired district judge Glen Strong was appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to rule over the case.

Strong said a gag order is in place for the case, which involves a landowner suing multiple oil companies over environmental damage done to his property over the course of many years.

Strong said the case was originally to be tried in court in Harrisonburg, but due to numerous reasons, the move to the convention center in Vidalia was made.

“They have court in the other courthouses,” he said. “They would have had to suspend the other court business for three weeks.”

Strong also said a lack of hotels in Harrisonburg’s prompted the switch.

“All but two of the attorneys are from out of the area,” he said. “There was no place for them to stay there, so this was a convenience for them.”

The convention center’s technology and amenities were another factor in having the trial in Vidalia, Strong said.

“There are thousands of pages of documents as evidence for this trial, and they wanted to present them all on slides,” he said. “They are using the convention center’s computers and monitors to put it up on the screen so the jury doesn’t have to go through the pages individually.”

Strong said Harrisonburg court also did not have enough capacity in the courtroom to hold everyone and there was were not enough electrical outlets for the trial.

Strong said the first two days of the trial have started smoothly, and the lack of an official courtroom has not been a problem.

“Everything has worked out really well and the convention center has been very good to everyone,” he said.

Strong said while the trial is scheduled to end in three weeks, it could last longer, depending on how things go.

The convention center is still open to the public, because the trial is only taking place in one of the convention center’s rooms.

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