Ruling: Sheriff to face contempt proceeding
The legal proceedings revolved around space problems at the county jail.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Youngstown Municipal Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly can conduct contempt-of-court proceedings against the Mahoning County sheriff for not following her order concerning a county jail inmate who was released early, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled.
In a 6-to-1 ruling Wednesday, the high court reversed a 7th District Court of Appeals decision that prevented Judge Kobly from conducting the proceedings against Sheriff Randall Wellington.
In an unsigned majority opinion, the high court held that Wellington wasn't entitled to a court order preventing the judge from initiating contempt proceedings because the judge has state authority to enforce her sentencing orders.
The court also said that state law granting common pleas courts authority to review and approve jail policies "does not patently and unambiguously divest Judge Kobly of jurisdiction to enforce her sentencing entries and to punish alleged violations of those court orders by contempt," according to the opinion.
According to court records, the case stems from a 2005 federal court class action in which the court found that the Mahoning County Justice Center and the minimum security jail were overcrowded and understaffed -- conditions that the federal court determined were unsafe and unconstitutional.
Subsequently, Mahoning County Common Pleas Court approved a prisoner-release policy aimed at keeping the inmate population at no more than 296, court records say.
The policy provided for the release of prisoners from the justice center based on ratings on the seriousness of offenses, according to court records.
According to court documents, in November 2005 Judge Kobly convicted Ronald Tomlin on misdemeanor domestic violence charges. Judge Kobly sentenced Tomlin to seven days in the county jail.
Regarding Tomlin, Judge Kobly specified in her sentencing entry, "Sheriff not to release early." Court records say Wellington released Tomlin on the same day he was sentenced, following the county's approved prisoner release policy.
The judge then ordered Wellington to appear before her and demonstrate why he should not be held in contempt in the do-not-release order.
Wellington filed court papers seeking to disqualify Judge Kobly from holding the contempt proceeding, which was denied by the common pleas court's presiding judge.
According to court documents, Wellington then sought a court order in the Youngstown-based 7th District Appeals Court to prevent Judge Kobly from conducting the contempt hearing.
The court of appeals approved the court order, and the judge appealed to the high court.
GOP Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Maureen O'Connor, Terrence O'Donnell and Judith Ann Lanzinger were joined by Democratic Justice Alice Robie Resnick in the majority decision.
Republican Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton dissented.
Youngstown Law Director Iris Torres Guglucello, who represented Kobly in the legal proceedings, said the judge was pleased with the decision.
"It supports the position we've taken all along."
The law director said she had not yet spoken with the judge but said: "I would imagine she would reschedule the contempt hearing."
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains, who is representing the county, noted that the federal litigation is still pending with a court hearing scheduled for later this month.
"We still hope to resolve this situation," Gains said.