Yesterday, for the fourth time since their case first arrived in D.C. Superior Court on Nov. 24, the landlord, his wife, his lawyer, some of his tenants, the city prosecutor, and assorted officials from the Potomac Electric Power Co. and the city housing department milled around smoking cigarettes, eating cheese popcorn and waiting for their day in court.
They are still waiting. At 4:40 p.m., a hearing was scheduled in the matter for next week, with the prospect of a trial date in January.
It was another irritating episode in a courthouse tale of woe about a case that has been bouncing around in search of a judge for more than a month.
"I feel like a stage door johnny," said Charles Klinger, the manager of meter reading for Pepco, as he paced the hall outside Courtroom 23, where he expected the case to be heard yesterday.
"I'm sick, sick, sick, sick. I'm sick," said his colleague, Ray Colie, the collection coordinator for Pepco's credit department. He quickly added that he meant he had a headache.
The landlord, Alfred L. Black, was charged with two violations of the city's housing code after Pepco cut off service to his properties on Danbury Street SW for six hours on Nov. 21. Pepco contends that Blacks owes more than $14,700 in electric bills on the properties located at 10 through 18 and 100 through 126 Danbury St. SW.
"I want to get (the trial) on tonight," said Black, who was dressed in a carefully tailored gray suit, as he joked with two housing officials about the case late yesterday afternoon.
"They're going to lose, they don't have a prayer," Black commented in the direction of Arnold Young of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. Young, who had been munching on packaged snacks, just turned away and smirked.
"They don't have a case, don't you agree, sir?" Black asked Young.
"Of course not," said Young abruptly.
"It seems to be routine," Young said earlier about the court delays, "and for our agency this is one of the most critical violations we try to handle in the winter season."
When the electricity went off on Danbury Street, the heat went with it, Young said. The city agreed to pick up the cost of service for the following two weeks, he said, and after that Pepco simply has allowed service to continue.
Black, who refused to disclose his age or his occupation beyond ownership of the apartment buildings, faces a total of $600 in fines and 20 days in jail or both if convicted of the charges.
Since the charges are misdemeanors, the routine in Superior Court is to send the case out to the first judge available in that division of the court. The trouble is that even with the case's "priority" status, and special attention from Judge Tim Murphy, the head of the court's criminal division, a judge just has not been available to hear the case.
There were high hopes yesterday after Murphy shipped the case out to Judge W. Byron Sorrell for trial. But Sorrell's calendar was packed with other matters, so, at 3:45, when the case finally was called and attorneys said they expected about three hours of testimony, Sorrell suggested they negotiate atlernatives.
After some hurried activity, another judge was found to conduct a hearing on Dec. 28 at 10 a.m. and then decide on a new trial date.
"I don't know," said tenant Lucinda Goode, 24, when asked about her four trips to court by bus and car. "I just come. It have to come as many times as they say to come."
Landlord Black, meanwhile, left the courthouse in good spirits, exchanging holiday wishes wishes with the opposition. "You get to a point where there are controllables and uncontrollables," Black had commented earlier. "I have to be here."
Housing official Young, however, return to Superior Court today for another electricity cut-off case.
"It will probably be another all-day-sit session," Young said.