Working group expects copies of judges' letters

Changes have been made to an emergency release mechanism.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County's criminal justice working group is anticipating delivery today of copies of letters local judges recently wrote to a U.S. District Court judge about allocating county jail space.
County Commissioner John McNally IV, chairman of the working group, sent a public information request Monday to Judge James C. Evans, who is administrative judge of common pleas court.
McNally didn't know at the time that U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. had issued an order late Friday allowing judges to decide for themselves whether they wanted to share their letters with the committee.
"It really is moot," Judge Evans said of McNally's request. All eight common pleas judges were contacted and agreed to have their letters forwarded to the working group. Judge Evans planned to send those copies to McNally today, he said.
Judge Dowd has had jurisdiction over jail issues since some inmates won a federal lawsuit over conditions last year. As a result, part of the jail has been closed, and inmate population has been tied to the jail's staffing and funding levels. Common pleas judges also reinstituted an emergency release mechanism that grants furlough to some offenders who are expected to serve their sentences later.
In March, Judge Dowd asked local judges for a unified response on allotting jail beds to common pleas, municipal and county courts. Judge Evans sent 12 letters to Judge Dowd earlier this month.
The working group intends to give Judge Dowd its own collective response, said McNally, who is an attorney.
Letters received
Judge Dowd received joint letters from the three judges of Youngstown Municipal Court and the four county court judges, as well as individual letters from common pleas judges and Campbell and Struthers municipal court judges.
The working group "would like to see what each of the judges has written and what their opinions are on the criminal justice system, how courts operate as well, and how county government operates," McNally said.
Judge Dowd summarized the lower court judges' suggestions, without attribution, in an order he issued April 11. Judge Dowd issued another order Friday to clarify that he won't publish those letters because the judges were voluntarily responding to his personal request.
Judge Dowd also said he wouldn't stop judges from releasing their letters. "That is a personal decision which this court will leave to the discretion of each letter-writer," he wrote.
The working group is to submit its final report to Judge Dowd by May 1.

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