ELYRIA — Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge on Monday formally vacated his court order requiring the county commissioners to turn over the keys to the second floor of the old Lorain County Courthouse.
Burge had said last week he considered the order moot since the county Adult Probation Department, which he and the county’s other General Division judges oversee, had the locks on the second floor changed Friday. Both the courts and commissioners have copies of the keys and can access the doors.
The commissioners had planned to defy the court order Burge issued on Thursday because they contend the judge overstepped his legal authority.
The argument over the locks is the latest skirmish in an ongoing dispute between the judges and the commissioners over where to house the Probation Department. The judges have long complained about the conditions, which they argue include mold, asbestos and lead paint, inside the courthouse while the commissioners have argued that the situation isn’t that bad and can be addressed with some work.
The judges want to relocate the Probation Department to the unfinished fifth floor of the Lorain County Justice Center, a plan Commissioners Ted Kalo and Lori Kokoski have called too expensive.
Burge has said if the commissioners don’t agree to the fifth-floor plan, the judges will order them to pay for repairs and security upgrades to the old courthouse.
Kokoski said the two sides need to reach an agreement to prevent further showdowns between the two sides. “We can’t keep playing tit-for-tat with each other,” she said. “We need to move on.”
The commissioners still are weighing legal options over the old courthouse and the second floor, which county Administrator Jim Cordes has said the Probation Department isn’t supposed to be using.
The judges have argued that expanding onto the second floor of the old courthouse is necessary because of unsafe work earlier this month by county maintenance workers that exposed Probation Department employees to lead paint.
But the commissioners have said even if that was the case — and they haven’t acknowledged the paint in question was lead-based — the judges should have contacted them rather than simply moving in.
They also were unhappy that Chief Probation Officer Beth Cwalina had a lock on the second floor rekeyed on Thursday. Both Burge and court Administrator Tim Lubbe said Cwalina acted without their knowledge and has been cautioned to seek permission before taking similar actions in the future.
The commissioners met with their newly hired lawyer Monday in executive session to discuss their options and prepare a reply.
Because Burge has rescinded his court order, there won’t be an immediate need for a hearing, Kalo said. The judge potentially could have held the commissioners in contempt of court for refusing to follow his order.
Commissioner Tom Williams said he wants to end the feud as soon as possible so both sides can stop paying their lawyers. County Prosecutor Dennis Will, who normally represents both the commissioners and the judges, has removed his office from involvement in the dispute.
“I’m hoping we can open up the lines of communication and try to come up with some agreement instead of taking this to court,” Williams said.