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The Florida Bar

Courthouse Closed for Second Time in Less than a Year

The Broward County courthouse in Fort Lauderdale is underwater again, pushing criminal defense attorneys and their clients out of the building for awhile. This time, the water main broke and flooded the lower two floors during the night of Sunday, November 30. Parts of the courthouse will likely remain closed for most of December.

Important paper files, computers, and the communication system at the Broward County courthouse suffered significant damage. The phone system in the courthouse and the adjacent jail is completely inoperable. Jail officials insisted, however, that safety in the jail is assured despite the problem. The 911 system still works and the jail is running under the same conditions used when phone lines go out during hurricanes. Broward Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jim Leljedal said, “We have a plan for situations where we lose land lines or our telephones are out. We have satellite phones, cell phones, and two-way radios.” The phone company estimated that repairs to the communication system will take at least a week.

Certain emergency hearings, such as domestic violence injunctions and certain bond hearings, will continue as usual. The closure of the courthouse could cause a long-term backlog problem, with thousands of criminal defendants’ cases being put on hold for the time being. For instance, Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney William Moore’s hearings have been pushed back. Additionally, the public will not be able to access the courthouse to file civil cases or obtain marriage licenses.

A sewage backup disaster closed the courthouse in February after the main lobby and three floors were flooded. The power was knocked out by the flooding, but the phone system was unharmed. The main courthouse was closed for only one day due to the February sewage problem, but the damage to the building was significant. Additionally, two current courthouse employees have filed suit against the county, alleging unsafe work conditions. They complain that the dampness has caused mold growth in the building, which is harmful to their health. Employees at the court clerk’s office have sifted through the damp contents of their offices wearing face masks and rubber gloves due to health concerns. An outside company is attempting to salvage some of the damaged documents using a professional drying process.

These developments have renewed calls for a new Broward County courthouse. Voters rejected a funding measure in 2006. The issue is expected to appear on ballot again, possibly as early as 2010, according to County Commissioner Josephus Eggeletion. In light of the recent serious of problems, the measure may gain more support the second time around, although the current economic situation will make any new project difficult. Several active proponents of building a new courthouse have taken this opportunity to speak publicly about the need, including the Broward County Public Defender, Howard Finkelstein. Finkelstein, a longtime advocate for a new courthouse, said, “`This courthouse is one of the biggest disgraces in the state and the public continues to suffer. Justice delayed is justice denied, and we clearly have a delay in justice here.”

Fort Lauderdale criminal lawyer William Moore has experience in a wide range of criminal defense situations and a great trial record. An arrest can damage all aspects of your life, including your employment prospects and custody and visitation of your children. If you have been charged with a crime in Florida, contact William Moore, P.A., which is an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal law firm with offices in Fort Lauderdale-Dade, Broward, and Fort Lauderdale Counties.

This article should be used for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

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