‘Hall of Toxicity’: Retired Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court judge says Springfield courthouse needs overhaul or total shutdown
SPRINGFIELD – If there has been one constant in Roderick L. Ireland’s courthouse in recent years, it is this: mold keeps coming back.
Although the debate over the environmental conditions inside the building has raged for years, the issue has hit the headlines again after a collective of lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against state officials on Wednesday. The lawsuit tells a judge to prevent the building from reopening unless an independent environmental company deems it safe.
Plaintiffs and their attorneys underscored the bold move on Thursday by holding a press conference to denounce the apparent inaction of Massachusetts Trial Court officials on the matter.
“Yesterday we filed this very important legal battle to compel the chief judge of the administration and management of the trial judicial system to take real and decisive action to provide a safe and healthy building for Hampden County’s members to live in Justice can be managed. ”Plaintiffs’ attorney Laura Mangini said, surrounded by court staff, attorneys and other parties involved.
“People in this community have raised these issues with the Bostonians for decades,” Mangini said. “Last week we reached a critical crossroads.”
The courthouse has been temporarily closed and court officials say the cleanup and analysis that began last week will continue until the end of next week. The goal is to reopen after Labor Day, according to presiding judge Paula Carey, one of four defendants named on the lawsuit.
In the meantime, court hearings are held remotely or in other court buildings in the area.
The Springfield Courthouse is home to the Hampden District Attorney’s Office, District and Higher Courts, the Hampden Probate and Family Court, the Hampden Records Register, and other offices.
The problem came to a head in 2018 when retired Springfield District Court judge William Boyle revealed that his doctors believed his diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease was likely associated with workplace hazards in the courthouse.
Boyle died of the disease in 2019, six years after his first judge predecessor, Robert Kumor, succumbed to the same relatively rare disease. The two lawyers occupied the same chambers, and Boyle’s doctors told him that chance equated with “Powerball odds”.
State officials rushed to a meeting with local judges and lawmakers. Studies have been carried out. Consultants were hired. Serious cleansing followed. Governor Charlie Baker promised action. But not much has happened in terms of fixing the problem. If anything, it has gotten worse, say employees.
After more than a year of relative inactivity in the courthouse during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff returned to find more mold. The American flag crawled in a courtroom and along the spine of legal texts, around ventilation slots, on clothing, in the prison chamber and other nooks and crannies of the 50-year-old building.
The heating and ventilation system is a bit mixed up, earlier consultants found. Staff say there are cracks in the foundation and recently an elevator got stuck that trapped occupants for almost half an hour.
Springfield attorneys including Mangini, Robert DiTusa, Jeffrey Morneau and Thomas Kenefick III took up the class action lawsuit against named plaintiffs Judith Potter, a former long-time employee of the courthouse, and Hampden County Register of Deeds Cheryl Coakley-Rivera. The lawyers do the work free of charge.
Many others in the legal community attended Thursday’s press conference, including Springfield attorney and retired state Supreme Court Justice John M. Greaney. He told the crowd he remembered the courthouse as a beacon of legal progress when it was built in 1976.
“It makes me very sad to see what happened to it,” said Greaney, adding that he believed state officials should shut down and “completely rehabilitate or close the building.”
Greaney said the building formerly known as the Hall of Justice is now considered the Hall of Toxicity. He blames the “state bureaucracy” for the slow response.
State Senator Eric P. Lesser, a longmeadow Democrat, joined the Choir of State Convictions of the Courthouse. He also praised Coakley-Rivera and Potter.
“It takes a lot of courage to put your name in a lawsuit, especially if you’re suing the state,” Lesser said. “And to be honest, it’s sad that it has come to this. But it had to come to that. “
Lesser cited the death of the judges and numerous sick employees. However, there is no final decision that links disease to the building.
“The can just stepped out onto the street. They come in, they do an inspection. They open up again – the same thing happens all over again. And meanwhile the people behind me keep getting sick, ”said Lesser.
Apart from Lesser and an adviser to Senator Adam Gomez, D-Springfield, no other local lawmakers appeared to have attended the press conference.
A satellite room in Eastfield Mall that the court rented for more than $ 600,000 a year has also been temporarily closed because of mold. Efforts to mitigate this continue.
While a Carey spokeswoman refused to address the lawsuit, the presiding judge defended the trial’s response to the mold problem in the Springfield courthouse.
“Within a day of learning of the mold problem at the Roderick Ireland Courthouse, the Trial Court closed the courthouse and signed a contract with an environmental auditing firm and a licensed mold remediation company to begin work on the building,” wrote Carey. “The mold remediation contractor looked at all areas where mold was present and found that chemical remediation was the most effective approach. The renovation process was thorough, detailed and comprehensive in terms of the scope of the work. “
However, the courthouse was not officially closed until Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni ordered his staff to evacuate the building and heads of other departments followed suit, including Coakley-Rivera.