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The Wheels of Justice Grind Slowly--and in the Dark

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Justice was not blind Tuesday, but it was a little hard to see.

It was the second day in a row that the lights were out in Los Angeles’ giant downtown Criminal Courts Building. Once again, the legal system proved it can work even if it is in the dark.

Judges presiding over dimly lit courtrooms were forced to squint at lawbooks under improvised lamplights. Some attorneys held flashlights to read their statements. More than 100 jurors spent an excruciatingly boring day forced to sit nearly eight hours in a darkened waiting room.

“There wasn’t enough light to read, there was no light in the bathroom and the drinking water was hot,” juror Charles Walker said as his eyes adjusted to the daylight when he was sent home just after 4 p.m. “It was the pits.”

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The power outage, which apparently occurred Sunday night, shut down electricity to the eastern half of all 19 floors in the courthouse. Courtroom personnel said that, thankfully, electric wall sockets worked so they were able to use table lamps.

Most of the judges’ benches and courthouse hallways were illuminated by emergency spotlights.

To make matters worse Tuesday, one of the two metal detectors at the courthouse entrance failed early in the day, forcing everyone except judges and courthouse staff to be directed through a single door.

Soon, a line of more than 100 people spilled onto Temple Street and around the corner on Spring Street. Attorneys and witnesses had to wait in line, adding to courtroom delays caused by the power outage.

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Presiding Superior Court Judge Gary Klausner said nothing pending before the court Tuesday was continued because of the hardships.

The Sheriff’s Department, which transports prisoners to the courthouse and within the building, said it also met its entire schedule.

“The main thing was that it was very dark,” said Klausner, who operated his courtroom with three borrowed lamps--one for himself, one for the clerk and one for attorneys.

“It was very atmospheric,” he said. “You know how it’s kind of fun when the lights go out and you have to meet the challenge with candles and flashlights; but you don’t want it to last very long.”

In some cases, jury trials were moved from darkened courtrooms into those with power.

“If the crux of the case was an eyewitness issue and the defendant says, ‘It wasn’t me,’ you can’t identify somebody in the dark,” said John Iverson, coordinator of the Superior Court.

Of 35 Superior Court criminal courtrooms--which process more than 600 defendants every day--about half were affected by the power failure, Iverson said. In addition, some municipal and juvenile courtrooms were dark.

Iverson said that the blackout was caused by a transformer failure and that courthouse officials have been assured that power will be restored by today. That would be good news to juror John Pennix.

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“This was the most boring day I have ever spent,” he said.


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