Burst pipe forces courts to move
Federal courthouse business travels as cleanup continues and the air is tested
The U.S. District Courthouse is expected to remain closed until tomorrow as authorities await results of an air test and continue with cleanup after a water pipe burst Monday night.
But it is business as usual for Hawaii's federal judges and their staff as alternate arrangements were made to continue court hearings in a conference room in the adjacent Prince Kuhio Federal Building and at other locations.
Yesterday, naturalization proceedings were conducted in the Federal Building's cafeteria. A judge was sent to the federal detention center to handle detention hearings for defendants who were arrested. And a trial that was to resume today will move to U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Court staff also worked online from home or at computers set up at several offices in the Federal Building.
"We are basically taking these various other venues and going forward," said Chief U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor.
People can still electronically file documents or do it in person at the file box parked outside the entrance to the courthouse. The U.S. Probation Office on the second floor of the Federal Building is also accepting filings until the courthouse reopens. "We are going forward while we handle the water, and hope to be back as usual on Monday," Gillmor said.
The flooding in an empty holding cell was discovered Tuesday morning, triggering a major cleanup by the General Services Administration that manages the four-story courthouse at 300 Ala Moana Blvd.
An industrial hygienist who obtained air samples on Tuesday spoke with the GSA yesterday and "essentially feels there is no immediate hazard in the building," said Gene Gibson, regional public affairs officer for the GSA, Pacific Rim Region.
The hygienist's staff, in an apparent miscommunication, left a message for GSA that included "positive for asbestos" after the hygienist was unable to reach GSA to give a preliminary briefing on the air samples. As a precaution, GSA notified Gillmor, who closed the courthouse to make sure no one would be exposed.
The air samples were sent to the mainland, a process that can take between three and five days before results are available, Gibson said.
"We suspect and the industrial hygienist believes the fiber readings are just dust," she said.
About 1,500 gallons of water was removed at last count, and they are still finding water, Gillmor said. The areas affected included a courtroom on the second floor and the library.
Anyone with hearings scheduled for this week should contact the respective courtroom deputies or their attorneys. The public also can get updates on the building's status at the court's Web site at www.hid.uscourts.gov.