MAHONING COUNTY Judge's order halts layoffs
The county's lawyers filed no response to object to the injunction.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Now that a federal judge has halted the layoff of 84 Mahoning County deputy sheriffs -- to protect jail inmates and the community -- county commissioners have to find at least $2.5 million to pay them.
In a three-page order filed Thursday, U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. issued a preliminary injunction that stops the layoff of 62 deputies set for Sunday and another 22 on April 17.
Judge Dowd is presiding over the remedy period that follows a successful inmates' class-action lawsuit. He appointed Toledo attorney Vincent M. Nathan to serve as special master (fact-finder) for the overcrowded and understaffed jail.
Nathan, in his report, recommended that the layoffs be put on hold because with that many guards gone, the result could be "serious injury or death to prisoners and staff."
Judge Dowd told both sides to respond to Nathan's recommendation by 11 a.m. Thursday. The county's Columbus lawyers, Daniel Downey and Mark Landes, did not file a response with the court.
The inmates' Akron lawyers, Robert Armbruster and Thomas Kelley, said they "concur entirely" with Nathan's recommendation.
The judge said the safety of the inmates and the community "absolutely requires this injunction."
He said he will revisit the injunction and staffing levels after the May 3 primary election, when the results of a half-cent sales tax will be known. Failure of the tax last year meant a loss of around $13 million and reduced county departments' budgets. The sheriff's department requested a $16.9 million budget for 2005 but was allocated $7.5 million.
If the cost estimates of Sheriff Randall A. Wellington are correct, it would cost $1.7 million to retain the current staff scheduled to be laid off Sunday and $800,000 more to keep those set to be furloughed April 17, Nathan said. The cost could run as high as $3 million, he said.
Last month, the judge denied a request made by Armbruster and Kelley to stop the layoff of 54 deputies. Nathan suggested that those layoffs remain because to undo them at this time would cause "logistical problems of substantial magnitude."
Nathan said in his report that Sunday's layoffs would leave only 42 deputies to work at the jail. The next round of layoffs would then reduce the number of jail guards to roughly 20, he said.
Nathan explained that, as it stands, the sheriff has 166 deputies, with 47 of them assigned to courts and other functions and 20 on some form of extended leave. He said that left 99 deputies to guard 435 inmates Monday, when he toured the jail and met with county officeholders.
The inmate population is steadily declining in response to an order from the common pleas judges that established a 13-stage release mechanism. Once all the inmates accused of misdemeanor crimes have been set free, the jail population will consist of about 300 inmates who are accused of or serving time for violent crimes, Nathan said. The goal was to reach 300 inmates left in the jail by today.
Nathan said the jail faces two problems -- reducing the number of inmates through the emergency release mechanism and security staffing. He said 80 deputies will be needed to guard inmates and another 12 command and contract posts must be filled, such as warden, laundry deputy, commissary deputy and so forth.
Judge Dowd, in his order, said he wants the sheriff to give Nathan daily jail population counts until the number reaches 296. The federal judge also wants a weekly report on the number of early releases that comply with the common pleas judges' orders.
In a separate order, Judge Dowd set Nathan's hourly rate at $125 and granted the use of an assistant for $25 per hour.
Commissioner John McNally IV said the board was having its weekly meeting in Sebring on Thursday and had not had a chance to review Judge Dowd's order.
"I would like to see the order first and then talk to the other commissioners before offering a statement," McNally said Thursday afternoon.