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Rockville’s district courthouse closes due to sewage leak

Rockville’s district courthouse, which opened Monday after three years of construction at a cost of $65 million, was closed Wednesday due to seeping sewage nearby — apparently the result of the strain the new facility put on a blocked city pipe.

Human waste began to seep through a manhole cover about 40 feet from the courthouse about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, said Bart Thomas, assistant secretary of facilities, planning, design and construction at the state Department of General Services.

“The line was apparently blocked and when we started the sewage flow [from the courthouse] it apparently caused the backup,” Thomas said.

The problem was resolved early Wednesday, Thomas added.

“We are in full operation,” he said. “The court will be open [Thursday].”

However, that was little consolation to attorneys and litigants who showed up for business only to find the courthouse closed.

Attorney Terry E. Morris arrived with his client at about 9:30 a.m.

They were greeted by a sign on the door that read, “Rockville District Courthouse will be closed today, August 3, 2011. Dockets will continue. Silver Spring District Court will be open today.”

“It’s going to be extremely inconvenient,” said Morris, of Morris Palerm LLC in Rockville.

Adding to their frustration was the Maryland Judiciary’s failure to announce the closure until 11:30 p.m. Tuesday on its own website.

“The last minute notice,” Morris added. “That is unacceptable.”

Judiciary spokeswoman Angelita Plemmer defended the timing of the decision, saying it was made only after the city of Rockville and DGS, which manages Maryland’s courthouses, could not guarantee that the plumbing problem would be solved by morning.

Rerouted

When the seepage was detected Tuesday near the end of the business day, concern arose that continued use of the courthouse’s plumbing would exacerbate the problem and the sewage would go into the stormwater drain and, from there, to the Chesapeake Bay.

DGS, in consultation with the city and Eugene Wolfe, chief administrative judge for the Maryland District Court in Montgomery County, closed the courthouse at that time.

The city, despite the doubts that led to the 11th-hour closure, was able to resolve the issue by 8 a.m. Wednesday.

“We have now rerouted the sewage that is coming from the court into a working sewer line,” said Rockville spokeswoman Marylou Berg.

Morris, though, voiced concern that the hearing on his client’s contract dispute will not be rescheduled for another 30 days, delaying her day in court — and compelling her to take another day off from work. The client declined to comment or give her name.

Morris also anticipates that he will have to shift his schedule around to accommodate the new hearing date.

“I guess it is what it is,” he said. ““I’m going to go back to the office and probably work on the next case.”

Attorney Jeffrey M. Orenstein also was surprised by the closure. He went to the courthouse with the intention of picking up a court order calling on the opposing side to compensate his client in a contract dispute.

“It’s very inconvenient; nobody told me the building was closed,” said Orenstein, of Goren, Wolff & Orenstein LLC in Rockville.

“I can’t get somebody to send me money until I have the order telling them to send me the money,” he said outside the closed courthouse. “No money today.”

Rockville’s new District Court building sits on the site of a former library at 191 E. Jefferson St., two blocks from the historic red brick courthouse it replaced. At 167,072 square feet, it is more than three times the size of its predecessor and houses nine courtrooms and three alternative dispute resolution rooms.

News of its temporary closure delighted at least one person on Wednesday — so much so that he attributed it to supernatural intervention.

“It’s cursed you know,” said Frank Anastasi, who in 2008 helped form Move the Courthouse. “It never should have been built here.”

Anastasi’s group had suggested that the facility be built less than a half mile away, where the shell of a former Giant supermarket has been sitting vacant since 2002.

“Yup, it’s cursed,” Anastasi said. “They should have listened to Move the Courthouse.”