‘Real serious problem,’ Dozens of public defenders, employees displaced after asbestos discovery

OKLAHOMA CITY - Dozens of public defenders and other Oklahoma County employees were forced to move after roof repairs led to the discovery of asbestos in the courthouse annex.

On Monday morning, a major mess on the sixth floor of the Oklahoma County Courthouse Annex Building forced about 75 employees to relocate.

"It's a super headache," said Chief Public Defender Bob Rivetz,  who was serving as a bit of a traffic controller.  "I've got one lawyer who picked up 30 years worth of stuff in his office and to tell you the truth, I don't even know where I'm moving him, because he's going to retire in six months."

Oklahoma County District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughn says it all started when work was being done on a leaky roof at the courthouse annex.

Maughn says that as crews were working on the crew, they hit asbestos. He says that asbestos was found there years ago, but it was encapsulated and determined to be safe if left undisturbed.

Now, it is time to fix it.

"We think it's a good idea to comprehensively address all of it and just get it completely out of there," Maughn said.

Commissioner Maughn says they've run air quality tests and there has been no exposure to airborne particles. He says they found it in time so they can abate it with no exposure to employees, so everyone is safe.

Maughn says the public defenders, along with some members of the district attorney's office and two other county commissioners will be displaced at least through the end of this calendar year.

"It's gonna be a real hodge-podge deal where we have to really discombobulate the office flow," he said.

Now, some attorneys are taking up offices in empty courtrooms. In some cases, employees are being forced to work on private cases in less-than-private spaces.

"Some of the lawyers I talked to are guardian ad lietem lawyers," said Ravitz. "They represent kids. They've gotta be in private areas, so it's a real, real, real serious problem."

Katie Bourassa says she found her office covered in a thin layer of dust.

She and fellow Assistant Public Defender Jonathan Neal are concerned about how working out of an empty courtroom without computers and a mess of files will impact their job.

"We're kind of the last line of defense for these people at the end of the day. P.D.'s - we do the most with the least," Neal said.

"I'm gonna have to tell them, 'I'm sorry, I don't know if you have other holds. I don't know how long you've been in, I don't know anything,'" said Bourassa.