Two studies performed at the historic David W. Dyer federal courthouse in downtown Miami show there are significant mold and air safety issues at one of Miami-Dade County’s oldest courthouses and suggest parts of the building are beyond repair.
The studies, which were obtained by the Daily Business Review, were commissioned by the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Florida after U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Klein became ill and died last year of a mysterious respiratory illness, and his fellow magistrate judges raised concerns about the building’s environment.
Employees believe that Judge Klein became sick and died because of the problem:
A healthy man who skied and jogged, Klein contracted a respiratory infection and died in September 2006. At the time, his family worried that something in the courthouse caused his illness. Shortly after Klein became ill, the court commissioned the first fungal contamination assessment, which was never made public. According to the report dated July 2006, “Magistrate Judge Theodore Klein has recently developed adverse health effects that could be attributed to exposure to molds. The assessment was performed to determine if fungal contamination was present in areas that he frequently occupies including his courtroom and his office areas.” The study showed fungal spores were present “in significant numbers” in samples. However, the study concluded these spores were not likely to cause health problems unless someone was in an immuno-compromised state. Still, the study recommended fungus on the plaster walls and courtroom wallpaper be removed. After Klein’s death, his courtroom was closed off and remains unused. His chambers are occupied by Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres, who recently transferred from Fort Lauderdale. “Why would they close off his courtroom if it’s not dangerous?” asked one employee who did not want to be identified. It is still not known what caused Klein’s illness because, in keeping with Jewish law, his body was not autopsied.
Chief Judge Moreno has taken steps to make sure employees are safe:
In an Aug. 27 memo, Chief Judge Federico A. Moreno said a new study is being commissioned by a company that performed mold remediation at the West Palm Beach federal courthouse. That courthouse, damaged by Hurricanes Jeanne and Frances, was closed for a year and a half while mold was removed.
“Our intention is to have the consultant review prior testing results, conduct additional on-site testing and then render conclusions about whether occupancy in limited areas of the building is likely to cause adverse health effects in occupants to a more serious degree than exposure to fungal levels,” Moreno said. “Please understand that I, who began his federal judicial service in the East Courtroom of the Old Courthouse, share your concern about your work environment in the Dyer Building.” Through a clerk, Moreno declined comment and said he preferred to let his memo speak for itself. In the memo, he encouraged any employees who have been in the “sealed document vault” — a basement area heavy with mold — to consult their doctors. Additionally, he mandated that no new sealed documents be taken to the basement, which is being “air-scrubbed,” and that anyone handling records coated with what appears to be mold use masks and gloves.
Read the whole memo from the Chief here.
The employees are understandably scared:
Klein is not the only federal employee in the building to fall sick. According to several courthouse sources, the law clerk for Magistrate Judge Barry L. Garber is very ill and has received permission to work at home. Garber declined to discuss the issue until the new study is completed. Another courtroom deputy who recently retired said she is very ill and recently had double pneumonia. “I’m scared to even go to my doctor to see what the heck is wrong,” she said. “They are keeping everything hush-hush,” said a judicial assistant who did not want to be identified. ”Everyone is scared. You don’t know how much your immune system can handle.” Another judicial assistant said she had no idea her chair was mold-infested until she saw a photo of it in the report, which labeled it “mold-infested.” She quickly found another chair in the office to use. Magistrate Judge Peter R. Palermo, who has worked in the Dyer Building for 37 years, is not sick but is concerned about his employees. “Who knows if there are health problems because of the mold,” he said. “We just want to know if it’s safe.” Palermo attended the Aug. 9 meeting held by representatives from Clerk of the Courts Clarence Maddox’s office to discuss the report. Neither Maddox nor Moreno or any other federal judge was present. However, Moreno has met with every employee to discuss the situation and is getting high marks for his concern. “He’s here in Miami and seems to care about us, whereas the previous chief judge was in Fort Lauderdale,” said one clerk.
Chief Judge Moreno is a people person and is a very practical judge -- he will do everything he can to fix this problem and make sure no one is subject to unhealthy conditions. I'm sure of that.
But I'm also sure that courthouse staff is wondering what the deal is with the brand new courthouse just sitting there. Why do they have to work in what they believe is an unsafe courthouse when a sparkling new one is built across the street. We need to sue those jokers who can't get the building ready to open. It's a bad joke already. The over/under is still January 1, 2008, but the smart money is on the over.