Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : December 2005

Previous | Next

Seeing is Believing
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So is first hand observation. I read about the devastating conditions of the courthouses, but seeing for myself was a real eye opener. It truly illustrates the severity of the situation.

On November 3, the Honorable Marcella Holland and Frank Norris, a Building Maintenance Supervisor for the city courthouses, personally took me and MSBA Legislative Director Richard Montgomery on a "behind the scenes" and "not so behind the scenes" tour of the Mitchell Courthouse and Courthouse East. We started in Courthouse East. After an incredibly long wait for the 60-year-old elevators – three out of four were actually working that day – several arrived, jammed to capacity. We finally gave up and took the official judge’s elevator up to the fourth floor.

As state leaders
consider solutions
to the Baltimore City
courthouse crisis,
perhaps they will be
inspired by a "behind
the scenes" tour?

There, we saw the room where the roof fell in, literally, on an employee two years ago. There are still holes in the ceiling, and plywood covers part of the floor, which is less than secure when one walks on it. There are holes in the plaster, peeling walls, and overall it is still a mess and not in use.

Next, we visited cramped, very hot offices, including a former vault that now functions as a small, claustrophobic office. "The public comes into these areas to conduct business, too," Holland stated.

Proceeding to the top floor, we saw where the leaks in the beautiful ceiling still occur and the paint on the walls in the magnificent hallways still regularly peels from water leaks. Many of the files in the storage areas have been badly damaged by water over the years, and although all of the asbestos has supposedly been removed, the employees wonder. Don’t even think about getting a drink of water – the water fountains have been shut off because there is lead in the water, and bottled water must be brought into the building for employees.

On the day we visited, it was pleasantly warm outside and unbearably so in most rooms. Holland showed us several very small, tight courtrooms where the defendant is literally sitting right next to (almost on top of) the jury box. Murder trials are actually conducted in these courtrooms. In the courtroom clerk’s office, individuals actually sit two people to one desk.

Next we proceeded to the basement, where the judicial garage is housed. In my opinion, this poses the most dangerous, insecure area of all for the judges, who park their cars in the underground garage where prisoners are being unloaded and loaded into prison vans, literally several feet away. This is a potentially explosive situation and quite dangerous, with only one security guard to maintain control over the entire area. Plus, the prisoners are able to match judges with cars and license plate numbers – not a comforting scenario.

Then we crossed the street and went over to the Mitchell Courthouse, where we saw more of the same. This courthouse is known for its "sick courtroom" which is assumed to be responsible for several judges suffering upper respiratory ailments. We saw more cramped, very warm office spaces and a very tight juror waiting room. Holland also showed us the poor design of various suites and how she is coping in an attempt to accommodate them to meet the needs of new judges’ chambers. There is inadequate space in both buildings.

In our travels, we saw very little security and even fewer deputies. However, we did see many prisoners, accompanied by correctional officers, walking down the hallways along with members of the public, jurors, attorneys and judges. Surprisingly, one of the main lockups is opposite the public elevators, meaning that prisoners are escorted in right past public waiting areas. Street pedestrian traffic must be stopped for this parade of prisoners, too. And the antiquated security in both courthouses consists, at best, of a metal detector at each courthouse entrance in both buildings manned by deputies. Modern security equipment, like x-ray machines for packages, is in limited use at only one entrance.

As state leaders consider solutions to the Baltimore City courthouse crisis, perhaps they will be inspired by a "behind the scenes" tour?

Janet Stidman Eveleth is the Director of Communications for the Maryland State Bar Association.

Previous previous

next Next

Publications : Bar Bulletin: December 2005

Back to top