A closed stairway in the county-owned Congress Plaza Building is
fast changing from a major inconvenience to a cause of near panic
for officials planning the Selena murder trial.
The flight of 24 stairs had been the main path for jurors to move
from the Jury Assembly Room, where they are organized into smaller
jury pools, to various county courtrooms to be interviewed for
possible jury service.
The stairs, which lead into the underground tunnel system
connecting five Harris County buildings, were closed two weeks ago
after several people fell. The only alternative to the stairs is a
bank of three elevators that frequently are busy transporting people
to courtrooms and the law library 19 floors up.
And while the $25,000 stair repair is inconvenient to people
working in the building, it is a royal pain for those responsible
for supplying county civil and criminal courts with jurors.
"They're going to kill us," said Rick Sander, the chief deputy
district clerk. "Our greatest concern is the Selena trial coming
Sander said as many as 900 potential jurors -- 200 more than
usual --are expected to show up for jury call on Oct. 9, when
Yolanda Saldivar is scheduled to begin trial in the killing of the
Quickly moving that many people through metal detectors at the
front door of the Congress Plaza Building and into the Jury Assembly
Room already looms as a major hurdle for district clerk officials,
Sander said. But having to later herd hundreds in small groups into
tiny, frequently busy elevators to be taken down one floor sends
chills down his spine.
County Building Superintendent Mike Surface said the stairs were
ordered closed because of "slip-and-fall incidents."
"We didn't want people to keep using them," Surface said. "I
don't know whether it was a design flaw or a construction flaw, but
it's not uniform. The stairway does not have the rhythym it needs."
Surface said the depth of some of the steps differs from the
depth of others in the same flight, causing some people to stumble
as they go up and down. In addition, the width of some of the foot
pads onto which people step also may differ from one step to the
Surface said it would be about five months before the county can
finish the repairs. The stairs will remain blocked by large pieces
In the meantime, a panel of judges overseeing jury panels and the
District Clerk's office intend to ask Surface to open three other
elevators that now have restricted access for security reasons. By
reprogramming all six elevators and moving the metal detectors into
the tunnel system, county officials think they can ease the flow of
jury traffic between county buildings.
"We're trying to send that sense of urgency out there," Sander