November 22, 2014

Elyria
Partly cloudy
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Commissioners, judges engaged in deadlock over building access

County judges want the Probation Department moved out of the old county courthouse because of poor conditions. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

County judges want the Probation Department moved out of the old county courthouse because of poor conditions. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ELYRIA — County commissioners said Thursday they will defy a court order issued by Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge requiring them to turn over the keys to all doors on the second floor of the old Lorain County Courthouse by noon today.

“We think the courts are overstepping their boundaries on this,” Commissioner Tom Williams said. “We just can’t have madness where the judges think they can tell us to do whatever they want us to do.”

Burge said he was surprised by the commissioners’ plans not to comply with his order.

“I’m disappointed that they would take that attitude,” he said.

The judge said that if the commissioners actually do ignore the order, he will schedule a hearing in which the commissioners would have to explain why they shouldn’t be held in contempt of court.

Although the judge said he would have to hold a hearing before making a decision, he could potentially order the commissioners jailed until they turn over the keys to the second floor.

County Administrator Jim Cordes said the commissioners’ attorney, who was formally hired Thursday, told him that jailing the commissioners wouldn’t be legal. Cordes said Burge will be sent formal notice of the commissioners’ intentions today.

Burge’s order was issued in conjunction with a letter to the commissioners from Subodh Chandra, the attorney representing the judges. The letter complained that, earlier this month, work on walls containing lead paint in the old courthouse was done in an unsafe way and created a “significant hazardous condition” for county
Adult Probation Department workers who are based in the building.

Because the area where the work was done is now contaminated, Chandra wrote, some workers need to be relocated to the second floor.

The commissioners and the county’s General Division judges have been locked in a dispute for months over the judges’ desire to relocate the Probation Department to the unfinished fifth floor of the Lorain County Justice Center. The judges oversee the Probation Department.

Burge gave the commissioners an ultimatum in April in which he said if the fifth floor project wasn’t approved, he and the other judges would issue orders requiring extensive renovations at the old courthouse.

While Williams has been supportive of the fifth floor plan, his fellow commissioners, Ted Kalo and Lori Kokoski, have balked at the estimated $2.4 million to $2.8 million price tag for the proposed move.

Kalo said he still believes that the old courthouse is the best place for the Probation Department.

“It’s a good old building and I think, with some money put into it, it will be more than sufficient,” he said.

Kalo also said the judges never inquired about expanding onto the second floor before Burge issued his order.

“They have not asked us,” he said. “They have demanded unfettered access to the second floor.”

But Chandra wrote in his letter that the courts have used all the floors of the old courthouse for years and a resolution passed by commissioners states that the building is devoted to the use of the courts.

“The (commissioners’) recent and inexplicable efforts to restrict access to significant portions of the Courthouse are thus improper and interfere with the Court’s operations,” Chandra wrote.

Chandra’s letter also stated that to prevent further problems, county maintenance workers need to coordinate with court Administrator Tim Lubbe before any repair work is performed on the old courthouse.

Even without the keys to the second floor doors, employees from the Probation Department have already begun moving into the spaces they intend to occupy, Cordes said.

County Facilities Director Karen Davis and one of her employees went over to the second floor Thursday evening to investigate a complaint from the Probation Department about an odor and the sound of running water emitting from a set of second floor bathrooms where the water is supposed to be turned off.

But Davis said she couldn’t access the bathrooms because the lock to the hallway leading to them had been changed and a conference table, boxes and other items moved into an old jury room behind the same door.

Cordes said Davis called Young Locksmithing Services to get the door open and the technician who answered the call told her that he had changed the lock at the request of the Probation Department earlier in the day.

Both Burge and Lubbe denied knowing anything about the lock being changed.

“We don’t change locks,” Lubbe said.

Burge said he would have been the one to approve the expenditure of funds for the locksmith but was never consulted about the work.

Kokoski said she thinks the court order is part of an ongoing effort by the judges to force the commissioners into a position where they have no choice but to acquiesce to the judges’ demands.

“They don’t want to resolve it,” she said. “They just want the renovation of the fifth floor. There is no compromise.”

Lubbe, however, said Burge’s order was a reasonable request, particularly given that the commissioners were told to provide additional access to areas of the old courthouse earlier this year.

“I think it’s a very reasonable order,” he said. “I think it’s a very simple order.”

Lubbe also said that it’s a matter of the health and safety of Probation Department workers. He said he has studies indicating that there are problems with lead paint, mold and asbestos in the building.

Cordes, who has previously complained about Probation Department employees entering areas they aren’t authorized to be in, said the problems inside the old courthouse are being exaggerated. He said the asbestos that is there isn’t a problem as long as it isn’t disturbed.

He also said that because the old courthouse is made of sandstone, a porous material, it can become damp and lead to mold, but health officials have told county workers how to deal with that issue.

Cordes also said he doesn’t know for certain the paint in question is lead-based. He and Kokoski said their understanding is that lead paint is only dangerous if it is eaten.

Burge said he isn’t an expert in lead paint, but he wouldn’t want to inhale it as some of his employees have.

“I don’t know what might happen if you breathed in the dust or the flakes,” he said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, exposure to lead can cause cardiovascular problems, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems in adults. Lead exposure can also cause problems for pregnant and nursing women and their babies.

The EPA website also said that lead exposure can come from eating and drinking contaminated food and liquids and from breathing “lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating, and during renovation or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings.”

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.


  • Mian

    Children…

  • todd

    How bout the commissioners make a deal with the judges. Start protecting the county again with actual deterring sentences for the guilty allowing citizens to feel safe THEN and ONLY THEN when the county is a safer place… you may have the 2nd floor.
    I can remember a young child telling me during their visit to the LCCP court that a judge told them that sentencing for felons is not like TV where they get out for early release and good behavior BUT I’m constantly reading this happening. Hmmmmm

    • jz

      Ever hear of overcrowded prisons? That is a big part of the equation most people seem to forget about. We lock up more people than any country in the world and there is a whole days worth of conversation about how and why, but, that plays into it.

    • jz

      Really? Most on this forum do not have even a minimal amount of knowledge about the courts, the prisons, crime and the drug war, and so much more that is required to make sensible reccomendations. It’s not an insult. Anymore than I could speak as if I have enough knowledge of all the intricacies of health care, insurance companies, drug companies etc to make anything more than a simple suggestion. You must really feel unsafe, eh? We lock up more people in this country than Russia and China combined. The failed drug war makes us more unsafe no different than during alcohol prohibition when murder and other violent crimes were at an all time high. I guess we’ll all know when the county is a safer place. We will just feel it right? The idea that stronger sentences act as a deterrent for most of the people in and out of the court system and have been on and off probation so many times since they were juveniles, is just that. A false idea. It does not exist. And the only way you can constantly have good enough knowledge about sentencing trends would be to commit much time to research involving the sentences and prior criminal records of at least 80 percent of defendants over a one year period from all judges equally. What you are reading about constantly happening , HMMMMM, is maybe 5-7 percent of the total cases heard which are the more high profile cases printed about in the paper. I will let you know when I “feel safe” enough to “let” them have the second floor. As if that has anything to do with the topic of this article. Which is absolutely does not.

  • GreatRedeemer

    Somehow my impression is the judges are acting like spoiled children. This is not how county judiciary and government should be.

  • Otter

    Just have a pissing contest, and get it over with.

  • Ex_Subscriber

    Another example of the imperial Burge judiciary overstepping its bounds. If you have this kind of power, Judge, why do you need to spend money on Chandra for legal representation? Doesn’t being overruled repeatedly by the state Supreme Court tell you anything? Good Lord, what a joke the Common Pleas courts are in this county!

  • Rosa Garcia-Gee

    I am saddened to see all the drama and public bickering. Truly nether side is setting a good example of working together to resolve this issue .

  • justwonderin

    Why not put those displaced workers in the Job and Family services building? They can pay their child support, apply for welfare and at the Employment Network and check in with their parole officers at the same building? One stop shop.

  • unknown

    All everyone seems to be focused on is the criminals that
    will be utilizing the facilities every once in a while and how they do not
    deserve this. What about the people who work there 40+ hours a week? They have
    to work in these conditions, mold, feces filled toilets, lead paint, asbestos.
    The judges seem to be the only ones concerned for the EMPLOYEES. I say let the tax payers tour the building,
    top to bottom, stop reading others opinions on the matter and then put it to a
    vote for the citizens to decide rather than let the unaware county commissioners
    continue to drive workers rights straight into the ground.

    • Abbie

      Direct quote from the above article (with accent on ‘workers’): “Lubbe also said that it’s a matter of the health and safety of Probation Department **WORKERS**. He said he has studies indicating that there are problems with lead paint, mold and asbestos in the building.”

  • Bill Love

    Now children don’t make the taxes payer take your ball and send you home. about time the grow up

  • Flabetz

    Don’t get your way, just sign a court order, ordering it? No oversight, no responsibility to pay for it, no accountability to anyone? The foxes are in the hen house. Burge is out of control and the rest are in for the ride.

  • Summer Smart

    How is it the Commissioners can’t be put in jail? The county engineer can go there when he breaks the law. Aren’t the commissioners doing that when they go against a court order? Isn’t this a breaking of the law and then in the public face, we don’t have to abide by the law? Funny.. Lock them all up in one room for a week; maybe they can work it out.