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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today met with U.S. District Court Judge Casey Rodgers and toured the mold-ridden federal courthouse in Pensacola to observe the deplorable conditions. In a media availability following the tour, Rubio pressed the General Services Administration (GSA) for action and called on Congress to provide immediate relief.
“This is the taxpayers who are paying for this. And right now, here you have a building that sits empty and unusable, but every month rent is being collected out of the coffers of the federal government, which is money from the taxpayer,” said Rubio. “And so my hope is that we can have a result here fairly soon and I feel confident that we can.
“[W]e’ve got to get the ball rolling because the current arrangements that we have now do not work, and compounding that with a judicial emergency of shortages in the number of judges here at the federal system in the northern district, means that cases are going to take longer to process,” Rubio added. “And the longer that cases are not processed, well that’s denying justice and that’s an injustice to people both in the criminal and the civil system. So it is an issue we think is a priority, and as I said we’ll continue to push to get the appropriate senator or congressman to approve this so we can get the funding moving and get the relief issue worked on.”
A partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below:
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Media Availability At Federal District Courthouse
July 20, 2016
“Our office here locally was in this room, and in early 2015 we were made aware of the problems that were building up because our own staff was interacting with it along with the people in the building. And we began to interact with GSA, which initially was basically saying there wasn’t much of a problem here and that it was localized and isolated. And ultimately we kept pressuring them, along with Senator Nelson, and at one point weren’t getting a lot of answers from them and then they began to become more responsive until there was a louder independent group to come in and basically acknowledge that, in fact, this was not a workable space.
“And Chief Judge has shared some of those stories of members of the jury, obviously the people that work in this building, and even visiting attorneys who were quickly made ill by mold. Mold is very dangerous when it’s present in the building. You don’t know what underlying health conditions you might have that it might aggravate. And so obviously we’ve had to relocate our office, and of course, the court has had to move as well.
“So, what complicates this matter and what I suspect is the reason why it has taken so long, is that while this building houses the courthouse and the GSA agency administers on its lease, the federal government doesn’t own this building. It is owned by a private developer. And I think one of the things that has made them reticent to come forward and invest the money to remediate it is it is not their building. But what a lot of people don’t realize is, at the end of this lease period, whenever that lease were to expire, this building will actually fall into the hands of the local government, and then it would be owned by the taxpayers.”
“So every month, this empty building here and its owners are receiving a check from you, the federal taxpayer, in exchange for us having to get nothing out of this building and having to work somewhere else. So the push now is for a 32 million dollar project to remediate the building, to fix it so that it is usable again. And that requires the signature, or the approval, of the appropriate chairman in both the House and the Senate. In the House, we’re lucky that that is Congressman Ander Crenshaw from Northeast Florida who obviously understands the issue and has been very helpful along with Congressman Buchanan and of course Jeff Miller who has been on top of this from day one.
“In the Senate, it’s Senator Boozman of Arkansas, who happens to be a good friend and someone who has asked to potentially come down and see it, which I have no problem showing it to him. But I prefer to get the money as soon as possible and then we can show it to him after, and certainly show it to him hopefully as its improvement becomes possible.
“But this is an important issue because this is not the federal government’s courthouse, this is not the federal government’s building. This is the taxpayers who are paying for this. And right now, here you have a building that sits empty and unusable, but every month rent is being collected out of the coffers of the federal government, which is money from the taxpayer.
“And so my hope is that we can have a result here fairly soon and I feel confident that we can. This work will take time, it is difficult work, mold remediation if you’re aware and familiar with it. I unfortunately have tons of relatives who have had to have homes remediated for mold. It is a difficult process and it is not foolproof. Sometimes you have got to come back and do it a second time. But we’ve got to get the ball rolling because the current arrangements that we have now do not work, and compounding that with a judicial emergency of shortages in the number of judges here at the federal system in the northern district, means that cases are going to take longer to process. And the longer that cases are not processed, well that’s denying justice and that’s an injustice to people both in the criminal and the civil system. So it is an issue we think is a priority, and as I said we’ll continue to push to get the appropriate senator or congressman to approve this so we can get the funding moving and get the relief issue worked on.”
Rubio on getting Congressional action:
“So we and the chairman of the committee though received spending to allow it to move forward towards the final authorization. It’s kind of an internal Senate-House issue, but I feel comfortable with what is happening in the House and I feel good that were going to get that done in the Senate.
“Though anytime we are looking at investing thirty some odd million dollars of federal money and to a property that is not owned by the federal government, there’s going to be some questions from the staff about that senator. It is a unique situation we are facing.
“This is not remediating a federally-run building, it is remediating a privately owned building and the staff is going to ask us ‘well why isn’t the owner doing this’ and we have to walk them through that. But I feel confident we’re going to get a resolution.”
Judge Rodgers: “Life for our court has changed drastically. Here in this building, we had five very large accommodating courtrooms to handle multi defendant trials. We can handle numerous lawyers in the courtroom. We can conduct naturalization ceremonies in our ceremonial courtroom on the fifth floor.
“We now have one and a half courtrooms for six judges and we are no longer able to hold our naturalization ceremonies in the courthouse. We no longer have a grand jury suit from the U.S. Attorney’s Office which was here. We are making due the best that we can, but there are security issues.
“Our marshall is here today from Tallahassee and he’s well aware of those security issues, and they are doing the best that they can to minimize risk. But as well all know, painfully so, right now the security risks are always a concern with everything going on in this country related to law enforcement and security.
“So life for us has changed dramatically for our staff as well. We have staff that is bunked in offices so to speak. They doubled up, tripled up. Our clerk’s office staff, they are literally working on top of one another and I just give them all the credit in the world for doing it without complaint. But it’s asking an awful lot.”