Friday, May 30, 2003

City mediates judge, chief flap

Confusion at center, official says

By Sheila McLaughlin
and Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MASON - While city officials wait to hear whether Judge George Parker will drop contempt charges against the police chief for refusing to transport prisoners, a city councilman trying to resolve the conflict says it stems from a misunderstanding.

Councilman Tom Grossmann said Parker is right to think that officers should transport any prisoner to the court because of a longstanding, but apparently long-forgotten, policy providing that all city police serve as deputy bailiffs for the court.

In fact, all officers sign a paper designating them as bailiffs when they are hired. That means, Grossman said, police have to transport prisoners from the county jail no matter where the case originated.

Parker had Police Chief Ron Ferrell arrested May 15 after the chief refused to transport an inmate in a case that was filed by sheriff's deputies. At the time, sheriff's officials couldn't convey the prisoners because of staffing issues. Ferrell said he didn't have any officers available either.

"For years, Mason police officers have signed documents making police officers deputy bailiffs of the Municipal Court. That's a key fact that was not properly examined which may have led to the misunderstanding that led to the problem," Grossmann said Thursday. "The court knew about this, but the city was not, at least, conscious of this fact. ... It seems to be two ships passing in the night."

His comments come a day after City Council designated Grossmann's court liaison committee to try to reach a resolution with Parker. Grossmann and Councilwoman Charlene Pelfrey, who investigated the flap, reported their conclusions to council at a special meeting Wednesday.

Grossmann is adamant that no deals are being made with the judge in an attempt to get Ferrell's charges dropped.

"There is no deal, no negotiation, no quid pro quo," Grossman said.

The city says it will provide court bailiffs with a car or access to one, and is asking that all Mason officers resign as deputy bailiffs. That would instead make them "ex-officio" bailiffs subject to transporting inmates to Mason for hearings, but only if the charges were filed by city police.

Grossman said the city recently discovered that it is required by law to provide the court access to a car. Ferrell refused to allow that in a final act before Parker had him arrested.

The chief continues to run the police department while he awaits a June 12 hearing on the contempt charges.

The city has hired Columbus attorney Stephen J. Smith, at $225 an hour, to defend the chief. Smith could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Grossmann said Smith is aware of the city's efforts to get the charges dropped.

"There is no point in stirring the pot, no point in filing motions and spending money and time. I hope the court carefully considers our request in light of our findings," Grossman said

Grossman said he hopes to have the judge's answer by early next week.

Parker wasn't saying anything Thursday. Bill Scherpenberg, his clerk of courts, said the judge was barred from making any statements because of judicial ethics.

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