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Reporter’s Notebook: Secrecy shrouds probe of shattering courthouse windows

Since August, visitors to the San Diego Superior Court Central courthouse downtown have been greeted by the jarring sight of a canopy supported by steel poles above the sidewalks on all sides of the gleaming, 22-story structure.

Another massive canopy covers the steps of the grand entrance to the $550-million building, which opened after some delay and to much fanfare in 2019. The canopies were put in place in response to a particular problem: the windows were breaking.

Three times between May and August, windows on the 10th, 12th, and 14th floor shattered. Two shattered in place, but the one on the 12th floor fell eight floors, landing on a fourth-floor rooftop. Suitably alarmed, the state Judicial Council, which funded construction and owns the building at the corner of C and Union streets, hired a consultant to figure out what was going on.

Yet six months after the canopies went up, it’s impossible to know who that consultant is, what they may have found out and how much the state paid them.

The expert consultants visited the courthouse, gathered information, conducted a forensic analysis and readied a report. Yet Blaine Corren, a spokesperson for the council, said the report has not been finalized and could not say when it would be. Nor could Corren say who was doing the analysis or at what cost.

In response to a query, he wrote “the consultant’s report is an attorney-client privileged document prepared under the direction of our legal counsel — the Judicial Council is actively evaluating all options with regard to the courthouse project’s construction manager at risk and cannot disclose any additional information relating to those actions, including the name of the consultant who did the report and at what cost.”

To review: the name of a consultant hired by a public agency and being paid public dollars to write a report about a potentially big problem with a public building that could threaten the safety of the public is an attorney-client secret and not public information.

Attorney-client privilege could perhaps be invoked if the council was considering potential legal action in the matter.

No windows have fallen out since August. However, another interior pane of glass broke on Oct. 24. The glass remained in the frame and didn’t fall out.

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