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Rx for local justice system: communication, cooperation



Published: Mon, August 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Last week, a federal court-appointed special master overseeing operations at the Mahoning County jail issued a stinging report that labeled the county's criminal justice system dysfunctional.

After peering in on the recent antics between the county prosecutor and a juvenile court judge, some may add laughable to the list of adjectives to aptly describe the inner workings of the county's justice network.

What happened?

Last week, Mahoning County commissioners intervened in a dispute between Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick and county Prosecutor Paul Gains. Commissioners requested that Judge Dellick restore phone service for two assistant county prosecutors with office space in the juvenile justice center.

The judge said she had ordered the lines to be cut to make room for a day-reporting program for juveniles. The county prosecutor said he had never agreed to vacate the premises and called Judge Dellick's assertions that he had done so an "absolute falsehood."

This she-said, he-said drama being played out between members of our county justice system's hierarchy looks like something out of a cheesy television situation comedy. It might be laughable were it not symptomatic of larger contentious problems that blemish the local justice system.

The ongoing sniping points to poor communication and lackluster cooperation between critical levels of the court system.

Time to work together

All officials who make up Mahoning County's battered and dysfunctional justice system should focus squarely on working to make that system become healthy and functional again. That starts with communication and cooperation.

In the specific case that triggered this most recent public display of rancor, one might argue that there are positive points to keeping prosecutors inside the halls of juvenile justice, just as there is value for operating a reporting program there for juvenile clients. If space is an issue, meet and work on a compromise that works reasonably well for both sides.

As long as critical cogs in the justice system cannot work together to resolve relatively small problems, how can the residents of Mahoning County count on these and other officials to work cohesively to propose and implement solutions to broader maladies plaguing the system, such as docket management, noted prominently by the special master?

At a time when courts are crowded, the jail is being emptied of problem criminals and crime is increasing in the city of Youngstown and its suburbs, the status quo cannot be tolerated.

Let's get the office-space brouhaha settled quickly and fairly. Then move on to address the critical structural issues targeted by the special master that affect law enforcers, prosecutors and the courts.

Clearly, for its long-term integrity, the criminal justice in Mahoning County must not be allowed to become a laughing matter.




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