Killer Mold in Miami Court

The fungus nailed Judge Ted Klein and endangers others. Federal incompetence is to blame.

Now, once a week, an employee at the court's records department pulls on a full-body plastic suit and facemask and then scans files into a computer so that no humans have to come in contact with them. Requests, understandably, take longer than in the past to fulfill.

Lots of people still work in the building. On a recent day, only two floors up from the sealed basement, Magistrate Judge John J. O'Sullivan glared over square-rimmed glasses, recommending bail and appointing lawyers to dozens of olive-garbed prisoners. They were all just a few dozen feet from Klein's closed courtroom.

The federal General Services Administration, which owns the building, says it has closed all the areas in the courthouse where dangerous mold has been found and has begun "preliminary" cleanup efforts. The major cleanup "will begin once all the occupants are relocated," says Gary Mote, a spokesman in Atlanta. "We've been working with the health department to make sure the people still working there are not in danger."

A few blocks away at the new Wilkie D. Ferguson courthouse — the long-delayed glass boat of justice — court is finally in session and a steady stream of lawyers, jurors, and cops flows into the 14 stories of allegedly hurricane-proof glass.

But the government is suing Dick Corp. for millions over the delays in finishing the building. A series of passageways built for the U.S. Marshals to securely transport prisoners to the new courthouse only recently opened because an improperly installed fan was filling the tunnels with lead-contaminated air from a nearby firing range. And inside the building, some of the courtrooms still aren't ready for justice.

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