Asbestos in Orleans courthouse causes extended shutdown

Criminal Court closed for repairs

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Construction crews have discovered a new problem at Orleans Criminal Court.

During lead abatement work, they found asbestos

Levar Hill had a court date he couldn't miss, and was surprised to find the courthouse doors closed and the front steps piled with scaffolding. Police officers were also among those turned away.

"I'm going to find out, I'm sure they have a contingency plan," said one officer.

The courthouse was scheduled for closure through the Mardi Gras holiday in order to remove old lead paint on the first floor. But the closure was extended after workers found asbestos in the basement.

"Asbestos. That's crazy and inconvenient," said  Seiunta Williams, who  came to court for an appearance before a judge about a diversion program. For defendants, these dates are critical, and if missed, could lead to a contempt citation or worse.

"What are we supposed to do about it?" asked Williams.

Some judges were making adjustments for the courthouse shutdown with one judge swearing in a new grand jury at the D.A.'s office next door instead of in his courtroom.

"No. I was called for jury duty. This makes no sense at all," said one man, walking away.

Privately, one judge told us the work is an inconvenience, but he said he had no jury trials were set for the week after Mardi Gras, and things could have been worse. New docket schedules are posted on the locked front doors, showing new court dates, later this month.

"A shut down courthouse. Something surprising," said Hill.

A court spokesman told FOX 8 that they could have re-opened today, but that would have meant having to pull out tons of scaffolding, then rebuilding it for the weekend. He said that might have delayed a scheduled re-opening next week.

First appearances are being handled at the Orleans Justice Center, but those missing normal court dates worry.

"It does worry me, because if I get locked up again, and I don't want to do that again, I just got out of jail," said Hill.

But courthouse officials say the work will make the building safer in the long run, in spite of temporary inconvenience.

A courthouse spokesman says for now, they have found just a small amount of asbestos in the basement. The job is being supervised by the city's capital projects division. The total cost of the project is $8.7 million.

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