Nicknamed 'The Slopes,' Broward courthouse ramp could lead to injuries, lawsuits

Man in wheelchair flies down courthouse walkway

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The new Broward County courthouse just opened to the public after millions of dollars and years in overruns, and there are already some glaring safety issues.

"I wish I had my skateboard from the 1960's to fly all the way down there," attorney John Phillips said. "Or to pour water and soap and body dive all the way down."

Phillips isn't talking about something from a skate park though, he, and just about everybody else at the Broward County Courthouse, is talking about the new walkway leading from the old courthouse to the new courthouse tower in Fort Lauderdale.

It's a 114-foot ramp that drops a total of 8 feet, an incline.

"It's the talk of the courthouse," attorney Bill Gelin, who runs the courthouse blog JAABlog, said. "Everybody's got a funny joke about it, but the sad part about it is it's dangerous."

Assistant public defender Azim Ramelize can vouch for that.

"To be disabled and have to deal with this is humiliating," he said. "It's just humiliating."

Ramelize is a bodybuilder, yet even he struggles mightily to climb the slope in his wheelchair. And going down is flat out treacherous.

To illustrate this, Ramelize took his wheelchair down the slope on its own volition, and by the time he got to the bottom, he was flying at a dangerous clip.

"It's scary," Ramelize said. "I've never seen a ramp like this anywhere."

Despite all the complaints, the county claims it's legal, though commissioners are not happy with it.

"Somebody missed the mark," Commissioner Chip LaMarca said.

He and Commissioner Tim Ryan said they weren't happy with county staff or the contractor, who all signed off on the dangerous ramp.

County officials are trying to find remedies, but LaMarca said it may be impossible to really fix the walkway, short of tearing it down and rebuilding it.

Phillips, who has represented restaurants in ADA claims, said it will likely open up taxpayers for massive lawsuits.

"They're still subject to ADA lawsuits," he said. "It may not, and I doubt it will, pass federal muster in front of a federal judge. Who in their right mind can say someone in a wheelchair could come up here?"

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