FREMONT - Sandusky County's juvenile and probate judge has ordered the county commissioners to appear at a contempt hearing before him this afternoon as a dispute over office space in the courthouse deepens.
Joe Albrechta, an attorney hired by Judge Brad Culbert, filed a motion yesterday in the judge's court asking that the commissioners be found in contempt of court for failing to turn over keys to a first-floor office. Renovation work approved by the commissioners to convert the space for use by the county tax map office is almost complete, but Judge Culbert wants to use the area for members of his staff and filed an order last week to stop the planned move.
Construction workers vacated the office Monday after Mr. Albrechta showed them a copy of the judge's order.
In the order, the judge had instructed the commissioners to turn over keys to the office by noon Tuesday. The commissioners took no action before the deadline, citing a need to hire an outside attorney to review the judge's order.
Mr. Albrechta said the commissioners could avoid the hearing by turning over a set of keys beforehand. The hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m.
"It doesn't even have to be the original key," the attorney said. "A copy will do."
Commissioner Dan Liskai said he and colleagues Brad Smith and Terry Thatcher could hire an attorney during their regular meeting this morning, but he was unsure yesterday if they'd be able to find someone in time for the hearing.
"After our discussion tomorrow, one way or another, we'll either be at the hearing or have some sort of compromise," Mr. Liskai said yesterday.
However, he expressed concern about what could happen if Judge Culbert finds him and his colleagues in contempt of court.
"It could happen there's no compromise, we don't honor it, and we go to jail in contempt," he said. "We sign bills two days a week, and we go to jail in contempt, the county stops. So this is just total disarray at this time. We just want to know where we legally stand."
Mr. Albrechta said such a dire outcome is possible but unlikely.
"If they fail to produce the key and show up at the hearing .●.●. they would have to show cause why they should not be held in contempt," he said. "The burden is on them. .●.●. But I do not anticipate it getting that far. I expect that calm and rational judgment will prevail and a key will be produced."
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