Attorney refuses to go into Allegheny Co. courthouse after several employees test positive for COVID-19

ALLEGHENY CO., Pa. — A local defense attorney is refusing to go into the Allegheny County courthouse after several court employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

“There’s no way I’m going in that building, not until some changes are made,” said attorney Joe Horowitz. “There’s no reason that anybody had to be here today. We could have done this all via video conferencing. If it was going to get postponed, we could have done it ahead of time.”

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Horowitz was supposed to be at a hearing inside the courthouse Thursday morning, but he waited outside instead.

After learning two assistant district attorneys he used to work with were in the hospital from the coronavirus -- one who is still in critical condition -- he wrote an impassioned plea on Facebook.

“My friends and colleagues are very sick ... This is a real life nightmare,” Horowitz said in the post. “They had three months to come up with a plan, and their plan is to worry about the bottom line and make no significant changes to protect our employees.”

There have been at least five cases of COVID-19 at the courthouse since it reopened -- two court employees and three employees in the DA’s office.

Since the courthouse reopened, Horowitz has only gone inside a handful of times.

“There were certain judges telling people, ‘It’s okay, my courtrooms are mask-free courtrooms,‘” he said.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said there are seven offices in the courthouse that operate independently. The court administrator said the building has been sanitized and masks and social distancing are mandatory, along with an increase in video hearings.

However, Horowitz said it’s not enough.

“There’s no ventilation. There’s too many people in that building and they’re all trapped in these little rooms, and once one person gets sick,” he said.

Horowitz believes the courthouse should be shut down for two weeks, and he said the only way he’ll return is if they enforce both the mask order and the occupancy limit.