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Broward courthouse staff: Building mold made us sick

April 3, 2009

Is mold making workers at Broward County's main courthouse ill? Several think so, and have filed lawsuits.

Five employees at Broward County's main courthouse have filed lawsuits saying mold at the building made them sick.

The lawsuits are the latest chapter in the downtown Fort Lauderdale courthouse's ongoing structural woes, which have resulted in several floods and power outages that forced its closure for days at a time.

On Friday, a county committee looking into what can be done about the building will meet at 1 p.m. at the courthouse.

The five lawsuits were filed Monday, naming Broward County and three companies that worked on various stages of repairing and cleaning up the courthouse: D. Stephenson Construction, C&B Services and Affordable Restoration.

On Tuesday, the plaintiffs' attorney, Walter ''Skip'' Campbell, said all of his firm's clients suffered serious respiratory problems because of the courthouse conditions.

''That courthouse has been deteriorating since I've been practicing law,'' said Campbell, a former state senator.

The lawsuits seek damages and the relocation of court services out of the courthouse.

County officials would not comment, saying they had not been served with the suit yet. But County Mayor Stacy Ritter said leaders are trying to address the building's problems.

''Clearly the county commission understands that the courthouse is an aging building,'' Ritter said, ``and we continue to have ongoing challenges to ensure that the complex remains viable for public use.''

Representatives of the companies being sued could not be reached for comment.

Those claiming damages are Patti Buchholtz, Sun Rentel, Brenda Spony, Jody Romm and her husband Michael Romm, and Stefanie Krathen Ginnis and her husband Eric Ginnis.

Broward's courthouse isn't the first in the region raising concerns about mold.

Lawsuits also have been filed by the family of late U.S. Magistrate Theodore Klein, contending that mold at Miami's federal courthouse contributed to the illnesses that caused his death.

The Broward lawsuits outline several instances believed to have contributed to the mold problem, starting with water damage left behind after Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma tore through Broward County in 2005. Air samples taken afterward showed the courthouse 'was a `very sick' building with long standing water intrusion problems,'' the lawsuit stated.

A pair of pipe bursts worsened the conditions. One in late 2008 soaked court files, knocked out phone service and forced the building to close for several days. A second in January added more water damage.

And on Feb. 12, a urinal on the eighth floor broke, flooding several floors below, the lawsuit stated.

BY DIANA MOSKOVITZ

Miami Herald, Wednesday April 1, 2009

 

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