Class action lawsuit filed over long-troubled Springfield courthouse

“There is a public health and safety emergency” in the courthouse, the 36-page complaint said. The lawsuit was brought by Coakley-Rivera and Judith Potter, who had “numerous health problems” from 1976 to 2006 while she was working in the building.

The lawsuit was brought against four civil servants; Paula Carey, President of the State Tribunal for Administration and Management; John Bello, Trial Court Administrator; Charles O’Brien, Trial Court Director of Facility Management; and Carol Gladstone, agent for the State Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenancecq, or DCAMM.

The lawsuit alleges that residents of the courthouse have been complaining about environmental conditions for at least a decade and that mold “was common throughout” in the spring of 2020, when more vents were opened in response to the COVID-19 pandemic .

“The HVAC system was unable to withstand the increased humidity, resulting in mold on various surfaces in the courtrooms (including the American flag and witness chairs) and in the clerk’s break room,” the lawsuit said.

That November, workers documented mold growth in court books, water damage to ceiling tiles that appeared to indicate the presence of black mold, and missing ceiling tiles with what appeared to be mold around the edges.

This summer, a central ventilation system on the fourth floor broke at least three times, leaving courtrooms without air conditioning and causing problems during jury trials, the complaint said. Mold continues to plague a waiting area for criminal defendants waiting to appear in court.

There have long been complaints about the condition of the five-story courthouse, built in 1976. Three years ago, a survey of hundreds of current and former residents of the courthouse found “common work-related symptoms” including pain or stiffness in the back, neck or shoulders; Numbness of the hand or wrist; Chest tightness; Shortness of breath; Wheezing; Cough; dry or itchy skin; Sneeze; Sore throat or dry throat; Sinuses; Dizziness or lightheadedness; Nausea; Eye dryness or irritation; and headaches, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also states that two former judges who occupied the same judicial lobby in the building died of ALS in 2013 and 2019. At least 25 former long-time employees have died of cancer while others tested positive for high levels of mercury, lawsuit alleges.

“The environmental conditions in the courthouse have had a serious negative impact on the administration of justice,” the lawsuit states, adding that staff have suffered “physical and psychological pain and agony” because they feared they might or might get into a state of health suffer from one.

On Friday, a trial spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit, but released a statement from Carey and Bello saying, within a day of learning of the mold problem, “The court closed the courthouse and signed a contract with an environmental testing company and a licensed mold remediation company to begin work on the building. “

The contractor “looked at all areas that had mold and found that chemical remediation was the most effective approach,” the statement said. “The remediation process is about to be completed and the trial court expects an environmental test report within a few days.”

The court will “determine the ability to reopen based on environmental test results and the completion of the mold remediation and cleanup work,” officials said.

In July court officials hired a consultant to carry out a detailed assessment and “make recommendations for necessary modernizations” of the building.

During the closure, the proceedings in front of the courthouse, which houses district, higher and probate courts, a legal library, the bar association, a branch office for the district attorney and the register of documents, were moved to other locations.

The lawsuit seeks an interim injunction prohibiting court officials from instructing courthouse staff and the public to return to the building until an “independent environmental study” can be conducted to determine its safety. She is also demanding a court order that forces the defendants to replace ventilation devices, as well as the award of “punitive damages” and legal fees.

Travis Andersen can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

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