Every day the judges running the iconic Miami-Dade Courthouse on Flagler Street in downtown Miami say the building is showing its age. After all, it went up in the 1920s’.
On Monday, jurors got a stunning surprise when they walked off the 6th-floor elevator: ventilation equipment and other gear.
“Giant vacuums and some sort of containers or something,” that’s what juror Freddy Rodriguez told us it looked like to him.
These jurors were getting a small taste of what the judges running the building say happens here way too often. They want something done about it and Tuesday the Miami-Dade Commission will be on deck to see what they are willing to do.
“We need it in a big way,” said the Chief Judge for this Miami Dade Court, Bertila Soto. “This building it's a beautiful building. It’s iconic. We all love it but it's almost 100 years old and it is costing the taxpayers a lot of money to upkeep it and a big delay in what we do in this building.”
Soto showed us some of the infrastructure problems. County records we obtained showed $2.7 million in taxpayer funds spent to shut down and move courtrooms.
Judge Abby Cynamon called her boss for help when she started getting sick. Her courtroom on Monday was abandoned.
“She was having some breathing issues – felt uncomfortable – came in here and there was a large terminate flight in here – wings all over – mold found in the courtroom behind the wallpaper,” Soto said.
The judges estimate one million people come into the courthouse per year in some capacity. Soto says while most people think they won’t end up here, many do.
Rodriguez came for his jury duty and ended up not far from the scene resembling a "Ghostbusters" moment.
“Maybe they should advise people whats going on and the issues with the building,” Rodriguez told us.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s staff told us that he’s committed to coming up with a way to protect the public and the 576 employees who work in the building.
Building a new facility would do that. On the table now to replace the old courthouse is a partnership with private money, about $360 million going in first, and then the taxpayers leasing the building for many years. There is concern that the whole process could be put on hold if one of the losing bidders for the work is unhappy and files protest actions with the county or goes to court.
In one incident at the current building, a handrail gave way and visitors were hurt. Litigation stemming from the circumstances at the Flagler courthouse can also cost taxpayers when it comes to lawsuits.
One woman who used to work there sued recently, saying it was her time in the courthouse, and at two police facilities, that resulted in her lung cancer.
It might not trigger litigation but when the bathrooms don’t work, Soto said other things happen.
Soto said one judge was subjected to an incident in which ”there was a urinal leaking and on his desk and on his head – the urine falling on his head.”
The Miami-Dade Commission gets down to business on this Tuesday afternoon.