Demands for action over unsanitary conditions at New York City courts

Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Demands for action over unsanitary conditions at NYC courts
The dirty conditions include ventilation ducts caked with dust and stained, sticky chairs older than most of the defendants who sit in them.

LOWER MANHATTAN (WABC) -- Staffers returning to New York City courthouses after working remotely during the pandemic say they are still in decrepit and unsanitary conditions -- just as they left them 16 months ago.

They say non-public courthouse areas have long been disgusting with soot-filled air vents, moldy chairs and dirty walls.

Attorneys say what you see on the outside of 100 Centre Street is as good as it gets and that the backrooms of the courtrooms are dingy, dusty and dirty.

"We're demanding that historically unsanitary conditions that have persisted for years, if not decades, actually, finally, be addressed-especially in light of a global pandemic," said Lisa Ohta with the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys.

Union president Lisa Ohta represents more than 2,000 legal aid attorneys and courtroom support staff.

Ohta says many of the conditions have existed for decades in dozens of aging courthouses throughout the city.

Ventilation ducts caked with dust and stained, sticky chairs older than most of the defendants who sit in them.

While the pandemic should have made cleanliness a priority, attorneys say little-if anything-has changed.

"That's not what they're thinking about they're thinking about how to move as many cases as possible, as quickly as possible," said Legal Aid attorney Japeth Baker.

The criminal courts are only beginning to conduct in-person arraignments.

Manhattan became the first, earlier this month, with lawyers and clients-like Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg-appearing behind Plexiglas panels.

"We expected that, at the very least a global pandemic would have changed something-that, in the amount of time that they had to remediate and clean, that anything would have happened. It was the best time to do it," Ohta said. "With these buildings that weren't being used in the same capacity, they had access they had the ability to do it, and nothing seemed to have happened."

The NYC Department of Correction said they have ramped up existing cleaning policies to combat the spread of COVID and air purifiers have been installed near holding cells wherever possible.

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