An Arlington judge dismissed charges yesterday against one of the area's largest apartment management firms and three of its employes for failing to report a serious fire quickly at one of the firm's high-rise complexes.
Chief Circuit Court Judge William L. Winston ruled that misdemeanor charges against the Charles E. Smith Co. and its employes did not fall within the circuit court's jurisdiction. The lower General District Court, Winston said, has "exclusive original jurisdiction" over violations of local ordinances.
Prosecutor Henry E. Hudson said after yesterday's brief hearing that Winston's ruling "has no practical effect" on the cases.Hudson said he expects warrants against the four to be sworn out in the next few days and the cases to proceed through General District Court.
Moving the cases to a lower court rules out the possibility that they will be tried by a jury, since cases in General District Court are heard by judges.
The indictments followed a Feb. 6 fire at the Smith-managed Crystal Plaza Apartments in South Arlington, one of more than 35 apartment properties in the metropolitan area the firm manages. That fire, one of the worst in Arlington history, caused an estimated $1 million damage to the 12-story luxury building and injured six firefighters who struggled for 90 minutes to control the blaze.
Arlington officials said the indictments were sought because it was allegedly Smith Co. policy to report fires first to management, not to the county fire department as required by law.
Smith and the three employes, who include the building's resident manager, property manager and a desk clerk, have pleaded innocent. If convicted, each would face a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.