Lil Wayne catches a break from court fire

NEW YORK The midmorning blaze shut down a Lower Manhattan court for the day, postponing the rap star's court date among other proceedings, courts spokesman David Bookstaver said.

It wasn't immediately clear when the sentencing -- already put off two weeks because Lil Wayne needed dental surgery -- would be rescheduled. Defense lawyer Stacey Richman said the rapper was en route to New York for his 2:15 p.m. hearing when she learned of the court closing.

Having braced to start his time behind bars, he wasn't pleased to hear about the postponement, she said.

"Once you make up your mind to do something, you want to do it," she said.

The Grammy Award-winning rapper had been expected to get a yearlong jail term after pleading guilty in October to attempted criminal possession of a weapon. He admitted having a loaded gun on his tour bus when it was stopped in Manhattan in July 2007.

Lil Wayne, 27, was initially due to be sentenced and start his term last month, but the date was pushed back so he could have surgery on his gemstone-encrusted teeth.

He had bid a drawn-out adieu to friends and fellow artists, including a Rolling Stone cover story last month and a video blitz this past weekend. He said in a video clip sent Monday to MTV News that he shot footage for seven music videos with various artists in one night over the weekend.

Born Dwayne Carter, he has been a rapper since his teens and one of the genre's most prolific, ubiquitous and profitable figures in recent years. His "Tha Carter III" was the best-selling album of 2008.

His latest album, "Rebirth," was released this month.

The courthouse fire apparently started in a wooden contractor's shed in the basement of the building at 100 Centre St., which houses many of Manhattan's criminal courts, its district attorney's office and other agencies.

More than 1,000 people were forced to leave as smoke spread in the building, leaving a haze in the lobby and a light plume of yellow-brown smoke near the roof. Several surrounding blocks in the busy zone of courts and other government offices were closed for more than an hour.

Eight people suffered minor injuries, including five firefighters, the Fire Department said. Court officers were seen helping a woman with an oxygen mask walk out of the building.

One of the injured was an inmate in the building for a court date, firefighters said. It wasn't immediately clear how many inmates were there or where they were taken before it was clear the building wouldn't reopen.

In the meantime, hundreds of lawyers, court employees and others waited outside the building.

Mirasol Caramuna had traveled an hour from her Bronx home to pay a traffic ticket before she was ordered outside. Defense lawyer Robert B. Kronenberg raced up from the lobby by elevator to a smoky 16th floor to get a briefcase he'd left in a courtroom, then walked back down 16 flights to get out.

"It (the case) was a gift from my wife and children," he explained.

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