It was a spooky coincidence -- probably.

The El Paso County Commissioners Court on Monday was debating whether to allow a group to conduct a nighttime search for ghosts in the Courthouse when suddenly the lights went out.

Eyes turned to the back of the room where some wag might have hit the switch, but everybody was still in their seats. Besides, the lights outside the meeting room in the lobby were out as well. About 30 yards away, they still burned in the commissioners' offices.

By the spectral glow of cell phone and flashlight, Commissioner Dan Haggerty elicited a nervous laugh when he said the commissioners had better approve the search for the paranormal. Shortly after he did, the lights came back on.

So now Ghost-EP will investigate whether ghosts, goblins or some other ghoulish phenomena rattle around the glass Courthouse at night.

The current building has only been there since 1991, so its history might seem too short to cultivate a rich crop of phantasma. But two other courthouses going back to 1885 have been on the same parcel. Maybe revenants stalk the new Courthouse after sitting on the bench or sweeping the floors in one of the old ones.

There are several tales of the apparently paranormal in the new Courthouse. Commissioner Anna Perez said she saw a ghost called James on the 5th floor.

"There also has been unusual elevator activity," she said -- one of several stories of the lifts doing unaccountable things.

Late one recent Saturday night, a county worker was on the 1st floor near the District Clerk's office. Nobody else was around, but he heard an eerie, fading laugh anyway.

"There's stories of judges who preside in different courtrooms," said Chris Medina of Ghost-EP, a group of about 20 who conduct investigations into the paranormal as a pastime.

Ghost-EP is working with county officials to schedule a search.

Medina said he and his colleagues use video and voice recorders and still cameras to try to record weird phenomena and then they look for a logical explanation.

Most unexplained incidents involve sounds picked up by audio recorder that nobody present could hear, he said. But Medina also claims his group has seen actual ghosts, although it hasn't gotten any on tape.

"We've seen shadow people," Medina said. "We've seen things move. We've seen things move on command at Asarco."

Alas, Monday's blackout at the Courthouse appears to have a more prosaic explanation.

Facilities Manager Monique Aguliar said the outage likely was caused by construction work on the Courthouse's lower level.

"You couldn't have timed it better," she said.

Marty Schladen may be reached at; 546-6127.

Adriana Chávez contributed to this story.