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Breach of Sewer System Brings Motion to Adjourn


It's not been a vintage month for lawyers.

First there was the stink that welled up after the president of the State Bar of California called for an end to lawyer-bashing in the wake of the law office massacre in San Francisco. What he got for his efforts was more criticism and more lawyer jokes.

All that was before the toilets backed up in the downtown Criminal Courts Building while the courts were in session Tuesday morning.

"It was spilling across the floor in the lobby and out the front door," said a woman who asked not to be identified. "It actually didn't smell all that bad at first, but boy, did it look bad."

Officials traced the problem to a broken sewer main under the street. Firefighters in yellow slickers and armed with long-handled squeegees built little dikes out of sawdust to help channel the flood.

For a while, the lawyers, the judges, the jurors, the defendants and all the other people in the upstairs courtrooms tried to make the best of it. But as the effluent and the fragrance continued to rise, officials decided they had to shut the water off.

"With no water, and with raw sewage spilling out, we had to transport the prisoners out of the building," said Robert M. Milano, presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.

With no defendants--and thus no one left to put on trial--Cecil Mills, presiding judge of the Superior Criminal Courts, and Patti Jo McKay, presiding judge of the Municipal Criminal Courts, decided to close things down and clear the 19-story building.

By midafternoon, the only ones left in the district attorney's offices were investigator Michael Armstrong, who was answering the command post telephone, and investigator Ron Hernandez, who was operating the radio.

"It's a little bit quiet up here," Armstrong told a caller.

Officials said the sewer break was repaired without trouble, but the mop-up was something else.

"I asked an attorney coming out of the lobby if the place would be closed for the rest of the day," said law clerk Philip Wasserman. "He said, 'Yes, the building's full of it.' "

Judge Milano said the cleanup work was expected to continue into the night.

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