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HomeNewsState
Published: 7/19/2003

Judge delays prison closure

BY KELLY LECKER AND JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

The state said yesterday it hoped to start moving inmates out of the Lima Correctional Institution early next week after an arbitrator ruled against the union trying to stop the prison shutdown.

The ruling meant the restraining order keeping the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections from transferring inmates was no longer valid.

But hours later, an Allen County judge granted another restraining order, saying the state must “maintain the status quo of operations” at LCI until the court can rule on the motion for a preliminary injunction filed yesterday by a number of agencies, including the union and two state lawmakers.

No inmates or equipment are to be transferred out of the prison, nor are any employees to be laid off, according to the order.

The state announced in January, as it struggled to balance its budget, that the prison in Lima would close, saving $25 million.

In April, the prison workers' union filed a lawsuit against the state, but dropped the suit two days before the Ohio Supreme Court ruled an Allen County judge didn't have authority in the case. The state and the union agreed to keep the prison open while an arbitrator heard both sides.

In the decision released yesterday, the arbitrator ruled the state did not have to negotiate with the union over the closure of the prison, which the union had contended. He ruled the decision was not related to wages, hours, or terms and conditions of employment, but instead was an economic decision.

“The decision to close LCI is based on the money that would have to be spent to continue to operate an inefficient facility that was not built to be a prison,” the ruling stated.

The arbitrator also said that while the state's estimated savings of $25 million might be overstated, the closing of the prison would result in substantial savings.

Andrea Dean, a spokesman for the corrections department, said the state was pleased with the arbitrator's decision.

The union said the lawsuit is an indication it is still fighting.

“We are disappointed in today's decision, but in no way does this mean the fight is over. This is an ongoing battle,” OCSEA President Ron Alexander said in a statement.

Late yesterday, a number of agencies and people, including the city of Lima, two state representatives, and the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the union that represents the prison workers, filed a lawsuit in Allen County Common Pleas Court claiming Gov. Bob Taft had disregarded the Ohio Constitution by ordering the prison's closure.

It claims the decision violated the doctrine of separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

Orest Holubec, the governor's press secretary, said the lawsuit could delay the inevitable.

“We'll take a look at it and talk about the case with our attorneys general. But the fact is that every day that we don't move forward in closing the prison, we're losing money. And we had a ruling from the arbitrator today which underscored the governor's ability to close the prison, and we intend to move forward in an orderly fashion,” Mr. Holubec said yesterday.

In the lawsuit, the union representing LCI workers stated the “Governor has no authority under these sections of the Constitution to reverse and revoke the authority of the General Assembly to create, open, and maintain a state facility when that facility has been created by specific pronouncement of the General Assembly.”

Two state lawmakers - Sen. James D. Jordan (R., Urbana) and Rep. John Williamowski (R., Lima) - are among the plaintiffs in the case.

The suit, filed by former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas on behalf of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, asks the court to declare Governor Taft and Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, without authority to close the prison and to grant a permanent injunction to prevent the closure.



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