Attorneys takes COVID-19 concerns at Allegheny County Courthouse into their own hands

PITTSBURGH — Attorneys continue to speak out following weeks of frustration and fears over their health while working inside the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Several employees have tested positive, as well as two assistant district attorneys who are in the ICU.

Attorney takes concerns into his own hands

“You failed us. There is no other way of putting it,” defense attorney Frank Walker said.

Have questions about the spread of the coronavirus? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak. CLICK HERE for more.

That’s the message Walker has for the Allegheny County Courthouse administration.

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

In the video, Walker said he is speaking on behalf of employees who have voiced their concerns to him privately about COVID-19 within the courthouse but are reluctant to speak publicly due to fear of losing their jobs.

Channel 11 has been highlighting concerns for weeks as several employees within the courthouse tested positive for COVID-19, as well as two assistant district attorneys who, as Channel 11 was told, are in the intensive care unit.

A number of attorneys have spoken out, including Walker, but feel their concerns aren’t being taken seriously.

“We’re trying to make something happen, and in order to do that, we’re just going to force their hand. Give them thermometers and put them to use,” Walker said.

Walker said he donated four thermometers to the courthouse Monday night.

It’s something that many private attorneys and employees have suggested the court administration to have. Walker is hoping his donation will allow that to happen.

“A temperature check is very easy. It’s a point at the forehead. You check the temperature. You know if they’re within a healthy range. You let them in, or you tell them to reschedule,” Walker said.

Walker also said this is personal for him.

He said he knows Assistant District Attorney Russell Broman, who is currently in the COVID-19 ICU.

Broman’s attorney said Broman’s ventilator was just removed Monday and that he is resting comfortably.

[ Assistant Allegheny Co. district attorney in ICU with COVID-19, files OSHA complaint about working conditions ]

Broman believes he was exposed inside the courthouse and filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about working conditions during the pandemic.

The court administration has told Channel 11 more than once that COVID-19 precautions are being taken, such as building sanitation, social distancing, wearing masks and an increase in video hearings.

Channel 11 reached out to the court administration about attorney Walker’s video and his donation and is waiting to hear back.

Walker said he is also hoping a checklist can be put in place at the courthouse to trace who has been in and outside of the courthouse.

Another attorney pushing to postpone trials

A judge raised concerns about COVID-19 safety procedures at the Allegheny County Courthouse, saying when he came into the building Tuesday morning, he saw a security guard wearing her mask below her chin.

Among the questions Judge Anthony Mariana raised include who's enforcing the mask policy at the courthouse and who's monitoring the daily cleaning.

The judge expressed concerns at a hearing requested by defense attorney Milton Raiford, who asked for a postponement of an upcoming trial because of COVID-19.

“We are playing Russian roulette, and I just don’t think we should play Russian roulette with the citizens of the commonwealth,” Raiford said.

Raiford questioned court administrator Chris Connors, who testified that plastic shields, limited seating and mask requirements have been implemented but suggested more should be done.

“We have to do everything we can to keep people out of this building, and I’m not sure we are doing that today,” Raiford said.

Raiford added that the hearing and many others could be done remotely. 

When asked why temperature checks weren't being done, Connors said the county decided against it.

He said the courts are now considering it.

Connors was also asked why the two prosecuting attorneys were sitting right next to each other. They immediately moved after he said they should be farther apart.

The judge also indicated he wants to hear more about the COVID-19 safety procedures from either Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald or the county manager.

A county spokesperson told Channel 11, “We have and will continue to follow all CDC guidance as it relates to our building and employees, including sanitizing stations, physical distancing dots and enhanced cleaning processes.”

Connors said there have been no positive tests for two weeks, but after three assistant district attorneys contracted the virus, Raiford said the courthouse should be shut down.

“We are responsible for the safety of the people that come in this building, and there’s nothing that we can do to assure them that they are not going to walk out of her today and take the virus home to their kids,” Raiford said.

The judge agreed to continue the hearing July 28, and Raiford said he will subpoena both the county executive and the county manager to appear at the hearing.