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Published: Thursday, 4/24/2003

Judge shuns state bid to close Lima prison


LIMA, Ohio - An Allen County judge yesterday refused a state request to clear the way for proceedings to close the Lima Correctional Institution.

The state attorney general had filed a motion Tuesday asking Judge Jeffrey Reed of Allen County Common Pleas Court to dissolve a temporary restraining order he issued last week. Under the order, the state is barred from laying off employees at the prison or moving inmates to other facilities.

In his ruling, Judge Reed said the court had a right to maintain status quo conditions at the prison while a grievance filed by the employees' union over the shutdown is resolved.

The grievance from the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association argues that the state is required by its contract with the union to negotiate a shutdown. The grievance also claims the state did not notify the union before deciding to close the prison.

The state, in its motion to lift the restraining order, said a memorandum of understanding had been negotiated between the state and union “detailing how the layoffs caused by the Lima prison closing will be handled.”

This memo, the state wrote, would settle the dispute with the union and end the need for the restraining order.

But Peter Wray of OCSEA disagreed. He called the motion an absurd attempt by the state to resume moving inmates from the prison before it enters arbitration with the union.

The union had argued in court last week that a temporary restraining order was necessary to avoid irreparable harm to 400 prison employees. Gov. Bob Taft wants to close the prison to help reduce a projected state budget deficit. Closing the prison, state officials say, would save about $19 million a year.

Union representatives argued that if the state was allowed to empty the prison of inmates and employees while the union filed an appeal, the issue would become moot because the prison essentially would be closed.

In its motion to dissolve the order, the state argued that bargaining had now been done.

Judge Reed is scheduled to hear the union's request April 30 for a preliminary injunction to stop the prison from closing.

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