Electrical fire closes 2 Calvert St. courthouses

cases postponed

December 03, 2004|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

An electrical fire in the subbasement of Circuit Courthouse East on Wednesday shut down both downtown courthouses yesterday, resulting in the postponement of dozens of cases and disabling the computer system in the juvenile court on Gay Street, which remained open.

Court officials said they expect both Calvert Street courthouses to be open today.

The small fire, which caused no injuries, exposed the poor conditions of an antiquated building and system that desperately needs to be updated, said Circuit Administrative Judge Marcella A. Holland.

"It's more than an inconvenience," said Holland. "It's a very serious issue because I had to have people leaving in the dark, out of that building, when there's no emergency lighting."

An architect's study released last year recommended that the two main court buildings undergo extensive renovations, and that a new criminal courthouse be built downtown.

The fire sparked from a circuit panel about 4:30 p.m., quickly filling the building with smoke, said Chief Deputy Barry Powell of the Baltimore Sheriff's Office.

The building was evacuated, and the city Fire Department and the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. responded.

"Because of the smoke and the extensive smell from the burning, it was decided that the building could not be inhabited today," Powell said.

Holland said electricity was restored yesterday.

The fire damaged the electrical panel, disabling cables that control the computers, which temporarily shut down computer systems in juvenile court and at Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse across the street.

The Mitchell Courthouse was closed because prosecutors and judges are housed in both buildings, and it would have been logistically impossible to hold trials in the Mitchell Courthouse only, Holland said.

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