As the city of Toledo and Lucas County continue to wrestle in court over who is responsible for paying the tab to house which prisoners, a temporary truce was reached Friday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
The city agreed to make its quarterly $1.5 million payment for inmate beds at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio by April 1 with the agreement that if it prevails in its lawsuit against the Lucas County Commissioners and CCNO, then the county or CCNO — or both — will reimburse Toledo for the payment.
The agreement was hammered out during a lengthy pretrial hearing before visiting Judge Linton Lewis, who was appointed to preside over the lawsuit after Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Bates recused himself.
The three sides of the debate — four if you count Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp — hope to have what Andy Douglas called “the threshold issue” decided by the court before the next payment would be due July 1.
Mr. Douglas, a retired Ohio Supreme Court justice who is representing the city in its lawsuit, believes many of the issues in dispute will be resolved, or at least clearer, after the court answers the question of whether an individual charged by Toledo police under the Ohio Revised Code rather than the Toledo Municipal Code is a city prisoner or a county prisoner.
“We believe it’s very clear that in fact when somebody is charged under the Revised Code, it becomes the duty of the county to pick up the cost of that prisoner,” Mr. Douglas said.
Fritz Byers, attorney for Lucas County commissioners, told the court he agreed the question can and should be decided as soon as possible, though he disagrees with the city's stance.
“We see the issue as follows: in the absence of a contractual agreement, does the Ohio Revised Code impose a duty on the county to provide a facility and pay for the custody and care of inmates who are arrested and charged by the city of Toledo and processed through the Toledo Municipal Court?” Mr. Byers said. “We believe the answer to that question is no.”
Still he said, “It's a very important issue — important not only for northwest Ohio but for the ramifications it will have statewide.”
Marc Fishel, an attorney for CCNO and commissioners in Defiance, Fulton, Henry, and Williams counties, told the court a second key question for the court is the role of CCNO’s operating agreement in dictating who pays for which inmates.
“Our belief is that the determination of who has to pay for which prisoners is initially found in that contract and not in the Ohio Revised Code,” Mr. Fishel said.
In any event, Mr. Fishel said CCNO must have its payment from Toledo to remain open and prevent it from having to release a large number of inmates. With an allocation of 228 beds at the regional jail, Toledo has been required to pay 35.6 percent of CCNO's operating costs.
Mr. Douglas said the city “under protest” made a $1.5 million payment to CCNO in January to keep the jail open, but he said it can’t continue doing that indefinitely. “If we continue to pay, you never solve the problem,” he said.
Mr. Douglas said that going into the hearing, the cash-strapped city was not intending to make its next quarterly payment to CCNO, but would be willing to do so if it can be guaranteed reimbursement if it wins the case.
After an hour-long conference outside the courtroom, Mr. Douglas read the proposed agreement and Judge Lewis agreed to sign it. He said the city would make a payment to CCNO on or before April 1, and the parties to the lawsuit would file motions and briefs in the matter by May 13, and response briefs by May 27.
“If the city prevails on these issues then the county and/or CCNO, depending on the court's order, agrees to reimburse the city for the payment made by the city on April 1, 2016,” Mr. Douglas read to the court. “The city has the assurance from the county that this can and will be done.”
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