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Published: Thursday, 2/17/2005

Mediator to help resolve dispute over office space in Sandusky County

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FREMONT - The Sandusky County commissioners and the county's juvenile and probate judge have agreed to submit their office-space dispute to mediation, both sides said yesterday.

As part of an agreement filed yesterday afternoon in Judge Brad Culbert's courts, the judge vacated a contempt order he issued last month against the commissioners and canceled a hearing scheduled this morning on the dispute. Instead, the two sides will meet sometime in the next 10 days with Judge Harry Sargeant, Jr., of Sandusky County Common Pleas Court, who is to mediate discussions on solving the space disagreement.

"We're getting to the right place," Commissioner Brad Smith said. "It might have been an odd route, but we're getting there."

Responding to a series of letters from Joe Albrechta, an attorney for Judge Culbert, the commissioners offered to submit to mediation by Judge Sargeant if today's hearing and the contempt citation were canceled.

Mr. Albrechta said Judge Culbert was pleased by the commissioners' mediation offer.

"This is our fifth formal request for mediation, and it was finally agreed to, on the eve of the hearing," Mr. Albrechta said. "While one might be suspicious of motives on the night before a hearing, the court has again stated its position: 'Let's mediate.' It's best for the county, taxpayers, and the voters and residents of our county."

He said Judge Culbert and the commissioners "waived their conflicts with regard to Judge Sargeant," who is the presiding judge of the Common Pleas Court's general division.

Dan Liskai, president of the commissioners, said he and his colleagues want Judge Sargeant to mediate instead of bringing in someone from outside the county who would not be familiar with the dispute, the courthouse, and court operations.

"We appreciate Harry Sargeant agreeing to head up the mediation team, and with his knowledge and experience, I think it's the best thing for the county," he said.

During the now-canceled hearing that was scheduled for today, Judge Culbert was to consider making permanent a temporary order that he issued Jan. 21 barring the commissioners from moving the auditor's tax map office into a newly renovated space on the first floor of the county courthouse. The judge's order stated his intention to use the office, with about 1,000 square feet, for members of his staff.

That order also instructed the commissioners to turn over a key to the disputed office by noon Jan. 25, and when no key was provided, Judge Culbert found the commissioners in contempt of court two days later. The judge received a key the following week, leading the commissioners to argue that his contempt order had been rendered moot.

The dropping of the contempt citation is "a relief, a tremendous relief," Mr. Liskai said.

Last week, Mr. Liskai personally delivered a proposal to Judge Culbert that calls for moving the juvenile court and staff into 10,000 square feet of office space next to the county's juvenile detention center.

Judge Culbert plans to conduct a "study session" at 1:30 p.m. today in the courthouse to review the commissioners' proposal, and Mr. Liskai said he and his colleagues would attend. Other county officials and the security services manager for the Ohio Supreme Court's Office of Court Security are also expected to participate.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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