More Mold in the Old Federal Courthouse


The drips, drabs, and bad headlines that I predicted would flow from the government not aggressively moving to resolve former Magistrate Judge Ted Klein’s imminent wrongful death case are here, in a fresh installment:

A lawyer for the family of late U.S. Magistrate Theodore Klein released a critical report Tuesday that says Miami’s historic federal courthouse is plagued with dangerous mold spores, citing the evidence as a basis to sue the government for his death.

”I think it certainly may have contributed to his pulmonary-related illness and pulmonary complications that led to his death,” said the family’s lawyer, Alan Goldfarb.

LAWSUIT LOOMS

A wrongful death lawsuit could be filed as early as this summer by Klein’s adult son and daughter against the federal government and possibly private contractors involved in past efforts to remove the courthouse mold spores, he said.

A U.S. Public Health Service study published in January also found mold throughout the 166,000-square-foot David W. Dyer Courthouse. In general, public health experts have linked mold to asthma, allergies and respiratory, skin and eye problems, as well as lung infections.

Klein, 66, died in September 2006 at South Miami Hospital after battling a lung ailment that family members at the time said may have been caused by mold spores in his Miami home — not his now-sealed courtroom. Klein, a longtime criminal defense lawyer who was appointed as a magistrate in 2003, fell ill in late 2005 to the surprise of many because he had followed a healthy lifestyle.

Goldfarb called the family’s initial response to his death a ”human reaction” that did not take into account a series of recent public health studies by the government and his experts that reached the same conclusion: Hazardous mold spores are still prevalent in the 1933 Dyer building, especially in the basement, air conditioning system, Klein’s courtroom and other areas.

”It should be noted that these results come after efforts have been made to remediate the building,” Goldfarb said. “Clearly, the inference is that the problem was much worse prior to any cleanup. It is our hope that the appropriate steps will be taken to correct this situation.”

SHUT DOWN IN 2006

Administrators shut down Klein’s courtroom in 2006. Goldfarb’s experts, in their report, did not recommend closing the Dyer building. But they recommended that federal officials repair all water leaks, reduce interior humidity levels, and clean or remove any materials or furniture affected by mold.

Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno declined to comment about Goldfarb’s report, undertaken in February by the Georgia firm Materials Analytical Services.

Moreno said the General Services Administration, which is the courthouse landlord, has commissioned health studies and cleanup efforts.

”If anything still needs to be remediated, we will push GSA to do something about it,” Moreno told The Miami Herald.

As a precaution in February, Moreno closed a few parts of the courthouse, including the basement that houses court records and a stairwell for judges.

”The new steps we are taking may in fact be premature without further microbial testing, but nonetheless we intend to err on the side of caution,” Moreno wrote to court personnel in a Feb. 22 memo, which cited the Public Health Service study.

So it appears the new steps were not premature, and the mold problem has not gotten any better. I know governments like to do nothing, react slowly, and that institutions as a whole tend to get in a defensive mode and waste taxpayer money defending lawsuits that should have been settled a long time ago. Just ask Bobby Gilbert.But here we have a smart, benevolent Chief Judge, who one would like to think can move this process from an adversarial mode to a collaborative, problem-solving one. Do we need more of these headlines? Is there not a way to mediate this in a less public manner, so that there can be an amicable resolution that all the parties can accept? Whoever is in charge of dealing with this — assuming there is someone who clearly accepts responsibility for dealing with the impending lawsuits — please step up and move this thing forward.

Note — photo above not of courthouse, simply what I think jurors will imagine if this case goes to trial.