Judge gets 'case of the golden toilet' Replacement cost astounds court

April 13, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

You've heard about the Pentagon's $435 hammers. Now, from the City of Baltimore, comes the $800 toilet.

Does that seem a tidy sum to you? Judge Kathleen M. Sweeney thought so when it was cited yesterday as the cost of replacing a toilet bowl destroyed by an unruly prisoner at the Northwest District police station lockup.

"The case of the golden toilet," she said with a measure of sarcasm.

There were plenty of smirks and a little bit of bathroom humor in District Court on Wabash Avenue when Kenneth R. Butler Sr. pleaded guilty to kicking the can after being arrested last month on child abuse charges.

"It is completely destroyed," Officer Richard Parker wrote in the document charging the 36-year-old defendant with malicious destruction of property. "The value of the toilet, which is owned by the City of Baltimore, is $800."

Finding that claim hard to believe, the judge told prosecutors to return in the afternoon with someone who could itemize the replacement costs. Enter Donald May, 16-year employee in the General Services Department, building manager for most city police stations and the man who hunted for parts and repaired the toilet.

Wearing jeans and a work shirt, beeper in one shirt pocket and "Don" patch stiched above the other, Mr. May looked every bit the expert on maintenance matters. When he started talking of "floor flanges" and the gaining popularity of the "top spud" over the "back spud" in industrial strength toilets, he removed any doubt.

"You don't even understand what I'm talking about so I don't know why I'm trying to explain it," an irritated Mr. May told Assistant Public Defender Louis Curran.

The $800 figure came from a contractor's price for installing a stainless steel fixture, Mr. May said. The city's actual costs for the porcelain convenience, he said, were $445.40 -- $225.40 in materials and $220 in labor.

Mr. Curran still wasn't satisfied, asking, "Why is it that Judge Sweeney or I can go to Hechinger's and have a toilet installed for less than $200 and it costs you $445?"

Those are different models, said Mr. May, who complained that the defense lawyer was "yanking his chain" on the toilet repair issues.

In the end Judge Sweeney sentenced the defendant to 60 days in jail, with half the term suspended, and ordered him to reimburse the city $445.40.

"This should be made payable to the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore?" Judge Sweeney asked prosecutor E. Francine Stokes. "That would be the flush fund," Mr. Curran interjected.

The judge made her ruling after hearing that Mr. Butler is a repeat offender, having also destroyed a toilet after a 1984 arrest.

Apparently bowled over by the rate of inflation, he complained, "At that time, I believe, the price was $245."

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