Courthouse Loafers Beware

By Stephen D. Bowling

February 13, 1986 It was nasty. Litter, cigarette butts, and tobacco spit could be found in most corners and on the steps throughout the courthouse. Men sat on the front steps and at various places, talking, laughing, and occasionally swearing as the sounds echoed through the hallways.

County officials complained that they could not work with all the noise. Mice and a fowl smell made conditions unfavorable for visitors and those who came to the county’s seat of government to conduct business. Visitors had to weave their way through the men sitting on the steps to get into the courthouse.

The Breathitt County Courthouse shortly after it opened in 1963.

Granville “Doc” Turner made the conditions at the Breathitt County Courthouse a major part of his 1985 campaign for the office of county judge. When he was elected, he promised to clean up the mess. Before Turner could act, Breathitt County District Judge James Henry Noble took action.

Judge Noble issues a standing order:


Any person not having business to transact in the Breathitt County Courthouse are directed not to stand about the doorways, in the hallways or sit upon the steps of said courthouse.

Any person littering said building or spitting upon the floors shall be held in contempt of the Breathitt District Court and shall be jailed in accordance herewith.     

The Breathitt County Sheriff, Kentucky State Police and the Jackson Police Department are directed to enforce this order forthwith.  

This 13th day of February, 1986.

Judge James H. Noble, Judge, Breathitt District Court

The Jackson Times took notice of the new court order and printed an article in its February 20, 1986 edition. The article warned loafers to be on the lookout.

County Judge Granville V. “Doc”

Loafers Beware!

Judge Noble issues court order banning loafers from the courthouse

When County Judge Executive G.V. “Doc” Turner took office he said he intended to clean up the court house and keep it clean.  By keeping the courthouse clean, he also meant to keep away loafers or the people who kept it “messed up.”

Thursday, February 13, District Judge James H. Noble issued a standing court order forbidding persons “not having business to transact in the … courthouse … not to stand about the doorways or in hallway or sit upon the courthouse steps.

“And persons littering said building or spitting upon the floor shall be held in contempt of the … court and shall be jailed…,” it continued.

The court order also directed the “… sheriff, Kentucky State Police and the Jackson City Police…to enforce this order forthwith.”

To date, most inside rooms of the courthouse have been painted.  The doors and stairways are not blocked as much as they once were, and there is not as much litter on the floors as there once was: in short, the loafing crowds are somewhat thinner.

But so far as is known, no one has yet been arrested and jailed for loafing or loitering.  But no tobacco juice is showing on the hallway or newly painted walls and very few cigarette butts are seen on the floors.  Only one person was observed sitting on the courthouse vestibule steps.

More than 95 percent of the public including the knife traders agree with the court order and believe it should be enforced.  One courthouse daily visitor said, “I’m not blocking any doors or sitting on any steps, nor am I going to do any littering.”

Then he reached into his pocket and showed a $50 bill.  He said, “And they can’t arrest me for vagrancy if I show them a $50 bill!”

The Jackson Times, Thursday, February 20, 1986, page 1

It is uncertain if anyone was ever charged with contempt for violating Judge Noble’s order. There is no record of anyone being jailed. The order must have worked. The courthouse remained clean, for the most part, over the next decade, and the public was able to come and go without impediment. The “loafers” lost their last bastion in town.

Years before, authorities removed the famous Jackson whittlers’ bench, and after the 1986 order, the courthouse was off-limits to the knife traders and yarn spinners. Many found other places to go to “hang out,” but downtown Jackson was never the same. That generation of men has passed, but you can still occasionally find small groups early in the morning in local restaurants. They only go to the courthouse now for business, thanks to the efforts of “Doc” Turner and Judge Noble in 1986.

© 2023 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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