Lawyers for the Salvation Army and their courtroom opponents called a holiday truce in the 11-week-old civil trial of lawsuits from the deadly 2013 building collapse that crushed a Salvation Army thrift store in Center City.
Lawyers, at odds for weeks, crossed the aisle in the ornate courtroom, shook hands, and offered holiday greetings. Courtroom Tipstaff George Hardaway brought around cookies, and Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina came down from the bench, sans black robe.
It's not permanent. The judge and lawyers had planned for Wednesday as their final day of trial until Jan. 3, in part to give a break to the jury that has already served longer than most ever will.
What they hadn't counted on was that there would be no testimony this week, because a juror fell ill. So, instead, Sarmina and the lawyers spent Monday, Tuesday, and part of Wednesday morning dealing with various motions and drafting the legal instructions the jurors will get before beginning deliberations.
When that will be is not known. Sarmina has told lawyers and jurors that the trial resumes Jan. 3 and goes "until expected conclusion" on Feb. 3.
The trial involves consolidated lawsuits on behalf of six who died and 13 injured when a building under demolition collapsed on the Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market Streets. One of the injured died 23 days later.
Although the Salvation Army's store was destroyed, it has been sued because charity officials purportedly ignored warnings and never told store workers and customers about the potential of a collapse at the demolition site next door.
The other major defendant is 91-year-old New York real estate speculator Richard Basciano and his STB Investments Corp., which owned the vacant four-story Hoagie City building being razed.
The lawsuits contend Basciano and his top aide went for the cheapest demolition possible and did no research before hiring Center City architect Plato A. Marinakos Jr. as their on-site agent to monitor demolition.
Also being sued are Marinakos; Griffin C. Campbell, the North Philadelphia demolition contractor Marinakos recommended for the job; and Sean Benschop, an excavator operator Campbell hired.
On the morning of June 5, 2013, Benschop was picking at a section of the Hoagie City building with the excavator bucket when the building collapsed and an unbraced three- to four-story wall toppled and crushed the thrift store.
When the trial resumes Jan. 3, Salvation Army lawyers will continue the case they began Friday with a first witness.