The stately marble staircase at the Franklin County Court House is now lined with ragged pieces of cardboard. Dark, wooden gallery seating from the circuit courtroom on the second floor has been removed, and dust blankets the judge’s bench as the empty building awaits renovation.
Yet the picturesque courtroom is still alive and well in the pages of attorney Stephen Van Zant’s first novel, “Far From Good.”
It’s the story of teenager Sam Cray’s struggle with discrimination and his parents’ divorce in 1970s Kentucky. When it came time to describe an imposing Southern courtroom in fictional Kidron County, Van Zant immediately decided on Franklin County’s real courtroom.
Van Zant, an Elizabethtown lawyer, has practiced in courtrooms across the state, and Franklin County’s stood out.
“It’s authentic, it’s Kentucky, it’s years of history,” he told The State Journal. “In my opinion it’s the most historic courtroom in the state. It’s just beautiful.”
Van Zant has practiced law for nearly two decades in the commonwealth and though he claims he’s “not a writer,” says the idea of penning his first novel spontaneously came to him while awaiting trial in 2008.
Despite a busy schedule, the first draft of “Far From Good” was completed only a year later through “moments stolen here and there.”
“I wrote bits and pieces whenever I had time – outside of courtrooms, awaiting trails and in the evenings.”
Chapter 23 of the novel opens in the Kidron County courtroom, and Van Zant says the book’s description is a near-exact representation of the real Franklin County Circuit Courtroom.
“ ... four antique brass chandeliers hung in a straight row from the front of the room to the back. The judge’s massive walnut bench, which towered over the rest of the courtroom, had darkened over the years and looked more black than brown.”
Franklin County Judge-Executive Ted Collins told The State Journal that the renovated courtroom will be nearly identical to the original in Van Zant’s book.
“We’re going to take out the benches and refinish them and add some new technology,” Collins said. “It’s going to be discreet, and it’s still going to have the historical look.”
The $30 million project will renovate the old courthouse while molding it into part of the new Franklin County Judicial Center – which will preserve much of the courthouse’s history.
The new 94,700 square foot facility will provide the court system with more space.
“A lot of these newer courtrooms are nice, but you can tell they just aren’t the same,” Van Zant said. “The benches aren’t made of that thick walnut and they look OK, but nothing like traditional courtrooms.”
Highlighting many of his experiences growing up in Metcalfe County, Van Zant says he hopes his book gives an accurate and interesting explanation of what life was like in Kentucky only a few decades ago.
In “Far From Good,” the reader follows Sam Cray as he deals with his parent’s divorce and a racist football coach who lives next door.
Sam’s world turns upside down when a fight breaks out between the coach and his friend. It sparks a court trial, and Sam is called to testify. He has to make a vital decision: Does he tell the truth to save his friend or lie to protect himself?
The book is targeted to young adults but is an enjoyable read for all ages, according to Van Zant.
Van Zant is a partner in the law firm of Bell, Hess and Van Zant, PLC. He and his wife, Kelli, co-own the Basketball Academy in Louisville, a 60,000-square-foot basketball and volleyball facility. They have four children and live in Oldham County.
To purchase a copy of “Far From Good,” visit www.winepressbooks.com, amazon.com or call 877-421-7323.