Federal judges are in no hurry to hear the county jail case.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A panel of three federal judges has set a hearing for May 16 and 17 of next year on whether it should issue a prisoner release order concerning the Mahoning County Jail, but the city's deputy law director said he thinks it's unlikely they'll issue any such order.
Judges Alice M. Batchelder, David D. Dowd Jr. and Dan Aaron Polster issued the order setting the hearing dates Thursday in the federal lawsuit concerning jail operations.
Inmates filed the class action lawsuit against the county in November 2003, and Judge Dowd has been overseeing jail operations since March 2005, when he determined the lockup was overcrowded and unsafe.
The city, which has intervened in the case, opposes any potential prisoner release order from the federal judges.
"At a very minimum, it means there's not going to be one for a good nine months," Anthony J. Farris, deputy city law director, said of the likelihood of a federal prisoner release order based on Thursday's entry in the case.
In their order, the judges agreed with the city's position that they can issue a prisoner release order only if they find by clear and convincing evidence that crowding is the primary cause of the violation of a federal right and that no other relief will remedy the violation.
"It's very unlikely that there is going to be a federal prisoner release order because the standards to obtain one are quite difficult to achieve," Farris said.
The judges appointed Vincent Nathan, whom Judge Dowd appointed as a special master to oversee jail operations, to serve as a court expert and ordered him to issue a report by Nov. 30 on whether jail crowding is the cause of constitutional violations, and, if so, whether any relief short of a prisoner release order could remedy the violations.
Talks go on
Meanwhile, Farris said negotiations continue between the city and county toward a possible settlement of the lawsuit. Those negotiations include discussions on possible payments by the city to house its misdemeanor prisoners charged under state law in the county jail. The city now pays the county only to house misdemeanor prisoners charged under city ordinances.
The mid-May hearing could come just days after Mahoning County voters decide the fate of one of the county's 0.5 percent sales taxes, which funds jail operations, in the May primary. County Prosecutor Paul Gains has said the tax will likely be on the ballot for renewal in May or November of next year.