A D.C. Superior Court judge said yesterday a North Carolina man has still failed to provide court-ordered heat and hot water for tenants in three Columbia Heights buildings, but he gave the landlord two more weeks to explain why he should not be sent to jail for his actions.
Judge William S. Thompson granted the two-week extension at the request of Robert S. Farmer's attorney, Charles B. Halleck, Thompson's former colleague on the bench, who said he was unable to prepare a defense for his client because he had not been hired in the case until Monday afternoon.
Judge Thompson expressed sharp displeasure over Farmer's lack of readiness for the hearing, which had been scheduled since Jan. 19. "I am neither naive nor blase," declared the judge, who had previously criticized Farmer's failure to obtain a lawyer. "He's not going to stick his finger up my nose and get away with it." Thompson then ordered a U.S. marshal to take Farmer, of Greensboro, N.C., into custody.
He was held for about 15 minutes and released on $75,000 personal bond.
While Farmer was in custody he was served with a summons from the office of the D.C. corporation counsel, the city government's lawyer, for violating city housing regulations at his three buildings on Euclid Street NW.
On Jan. 19, Thompson threatened Farmer with a six-month jail term for disregarding two earlier court orders to correct the wintery conditions inside the 52 apartments at 1014, 1030 and 1034 Euclid St. NW. Court action to force Farmer to provide heat and hot water for the buildings has been under way since October.
At the same time, Thompson also imposed a $5,000-a-day fine on Farmer, to accumulate each day until heat and hot water are restored.
Yesterday Eric Rome, an Antioch law student representing the tenants, said there has been "sporadic heat" at the buildings since the Jan. 19 order but there was no heat or hot water yesterday. Thompson asked Rome to provide an exact accounting of how many days the buildings' tenants, many of whom are mothers with small children, have been without those services.
"I'm sure the judge is concerned about us, but we still have no heat and hot water," said Dorothy Griffin, 52, one of about a dozen tenants who attended the hearing.
She was echoed by Debra Rice: "He's fining him but we don't have any heat or hot water."
City lawyers yesterday refused to say how many charges they will place against Farmer. If Farmer is found guilty of violating the city's housing code, a criminal offense, he could face the maximum penalty of $300 and/or 10 days in jail for each violaton. However, city judges rarely impose the maximum penalties.
Thompson arranged to have Farmer returned to his courtroom for the contempt hearing Feb. 25, the same day he is to answer the city charges. Halleck had at one point argued for a March hearing but agreed to the earlier date after Thompson said Farmer's $5,000-a-day fine will continue to mount until the case is heard.
Farmer declined to comment on his case yesterday.
Fourteen years ago Farmer was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine or serve 30 days in jail after he was convicted of five housing code violations at the Fairview Apartments in the 700 block of Brandywine Street SE. According to Thompson's court order, Farmer still owns the 210 apartments there.