Fire In Courthouse Causes Chaos


Narcotics defendants are jamming the hallways. Riker's inmates with court dates are staying locked in their cells. As many as seven judges are sharing a single courtroom -- in some instances, sitting with their law clerks at the defendants' table.

Keep in mind, Lil Wayne was to appear in court to start sentencing on this day also-coincidence? DOUBT IT!

It's controlled chaos in Manhattan Criminal courts -- where a basement fire on Tuesday has shut down indefinitely one of the system's two main courthouses, jamming hundreds of "homeless" judges, prosecutors, lawyers, defendants and court staff into the remaining courthouse.

Meanwhile, rumors are rampant that lingering asbestos concerns in the fire-damaged courthouse -- 100 Centre Street -- will keep it closed for another week, along with such vital facilities as Central Booking, arraignment courtrooms, and most of the DA's offices and grand jury rooms -- resulting in a potential perp pile-up of massive proportions.

Amazingly, even some of the systems' traditionally noisiest critics -- court personnel and defense lawyers -- are praising, for now, how the state court system is handling the logistical nightmare.

"I have to say, it's well-managed mahem," said one defense lawyer who asked his name not be used because he was too embarassed to be publicly praising the system. "Frankly, the court personnel are doing a masterful job. They're really stepping up to the plate."

There were, though, some less than optimal scenarios.

This morning, some 400 felony inmates alone had court dates at 100 Centre Street.

Most of those in custody simply weren't brought to court -- unless they were on trial, or due to miss some statutory deadline, there was no room for them, because 111 Centre, designed primarily for civil cases, only has tiny holding pens on two of its floors.

Instead, their lawyers asked for adjourn dates from judges that in some cases were jammed two, three or more to a courtroom and shared the bench in turns.

Who knows how many of these inmates, and their more numerous midemeananor counterparts, are missing opportunities to be released from jail under time-served or probation sentences, mused one Legal Aid supervisor, David Kapner. "That's always our first concern that our clients will spend time in jail when they should be released."

The most hectic courtroom by far today was on 111 Centre's seventh floor, where a single judge sat at the bench to hear the combined cases of two of 100 Centre's busiest courtrooms -- those handling narcotics defendants and defendants awaiting word on whether they've been indicted.

There were some 200 defendants on the calendar. But the courtroom -- chosen because it was one of the few with holding pen access -- seats only 20. Even the lawyers spilled out into the adjacent hallway, which was packed with impatient defendants.

"This is sheer chaos," griped one lawyer. "This is the busiest calendar in the smallest courtroom," groused a court worker.

Meanwhile, the work of Central Booking -- including fingerprinting and running criminal records -- were being relegated to the individual precincts. And new DA Cyrus Vance coped with the first crisis of his two-month-old tenure. In one smokey swoop, his staff had lost three floors of offices, most of its grand jury rooms, and the offices where criminal complaints are drawn up. Staffers were being crammed into DA offices in an adjacent building.


0 comments to "Fire In Courthouse Causes Chaos"

Post a Comment

Edge Archive

Site Counters
Site

Edgers

Search Tha Edge

Edge Video

Loading...
Web hosting for webmasters