Los Angeles Fire Department inspectors warned San Fernando Municipal Court officials Monday that they must prevent the overcrowding that occurs daily in arraignment court, where criminal defendants wait to enter their pleas.
In a surprise 10 a.m. inspection prompted by a telephone complaint, fire inspectors cited court officials for two violations of the city fire code--overcrowding and blocking exit aisles--in Division 130, said Chief Michael Fulmis of the department's health and safety division.
But the court will not be fined, Fulmis said, since officials immediately alleviated the crowding by sending people out to wait in the hall until their cases were called.
It was the first time San Fernando court officials had been cited for fire code violations, officials said.
To comply with the Fire Department's warning, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies will stand outside the arraignment court today and monitor the crowd inside, said Judge Charles Peven, acting supervising Municipal Court judge. When the courtroom's audience section has reached its legal capacity of 119, defendants and their families will be denied entrance until others leave, he said.
More than 190 people are scheduled to come to the courtroom at 9 a.m. for arraignment, he said, but "they can stay in the hall and wait their turn."
Crowds Regular Feature
Court officials said crowds have become a regular feature in the arraignment court, which processes every case that comes to the San Fernando Courthouse--from misdemeanors to felonies.
"It's one of the busiest courtrooms in the whole system," Peven said. "Anyone who comes through who has a court case here in San Fernando, that's their first step."
The number of cases has increased dramatically since the courthouse opened six years ago, said Peven, who presided over the arraignment court until 1987. When the courthouse first opened, Peven said, he arraigned about 200 people a week in Division 130. After a year, he said, that number had increased to about 750 weekly.
Now, Commissioner Gerald Richardson oversees between 1,200 and 1,300 arraignments a week, Peven said. That's about 250 people a day, each of whom also may bring family or friends to watch the proceedings. All that, he said, adds up to people overflowing into the aisles and standing in the back for lack of a seat.
"The courtroom is just too small," Peven said. "It's not much bigger than the trial courts in the building."