The Public Defender’s Office is pursuing an emergent appeal after having failed to obtain a court order halting closure of the Gloucester County Jail.
The office on Tuesday petitioned the Appellate Division to review denial the day before of a preliminary injunction in Krakora v. County of Gloucester, BUR-L-1191-13.
The suit alleges that the jail’s shuttering and dispersal of inmates to other counties as far away as Essex would flout their constitutional right to counsel.
After Monday’s ruling — and with a companion action by corrections officers settling days earlier — the closure is set to move forward.
In denying the injunction, Burlington County Superior Court Judge Ronald Bookbinder found that the plaintiffs — Public Defender Joseph Krakora, his office and three indigent pretrial inmates housed in Gloucester — fell short of demonstrating likely success on the merits.
The plaintiffs argued that the county’s promise to eliminate constitutional concerns by busing inmates to and from court dates and attorney meetings is not a concrete plan.
The suit will move forward, however, as Bookbinder also denied a defense motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiffs succeeded in making out actionable claims.
Gloucester County and the other defendants have until July 1 to file answers, after which the case will head to discovery.
The cost-saving plan to close the Gloucester County Adult Correctional Facility in Woodbury was made public in March. Officials estimate it will save the county $2 million this year and $10 million a year after that.
The Board of chosen Freeholders approved service contracts with Cumberland, Salem and Burlington counties, as well as Essex in case the other agreements fell through. The contracts provided for the transfer of all Gloucester’s male inmates; female inmates were moved to Camden and Salem county jails two years ago.
At present, assistant public defenders visit clients when their schedules permit — their office is steps away from the jail, which is connected by a secured tunnel to the county’s criminal courts building.
Transferring those clients to other counties would deprive them of access to and effective assistance of counsel by forcing the attorneys to make considerable trips to meet with them, the plaintiffs alleged in the May 10 complaint. All five counties were named, along with their freeholder boards.
Alternate plans to facilitate attorney-client meetings at the courthouse and transport inmates by van are impracticable, the plaintiffs claim.
The county executed the agreements without consulting the state Department of Corrections or judiciary officials, which both have authority over where and how inmates are housed, the plaintiffs allege.
The jail, which opened in 1983 and originally was intended for 118 inmates, averaged 304 inmates in April, according to the complaint.
Another suit seeking to block the closure was brought on behalf of corrections officers by three chapters of the Fraternal Order of Police, claiming the plan violates the Uniform Shared Services and Consolidation Act because the anticipated layoffs do not account for staffers’ seniority.
That suit was withdrawn on May 30 after a settlement with the county that allows any officer who has been on the job for at least 20 years to retire and collect a full pension. Officers normally must serve at least 25 years to retire.
The settlement will cost an estimated $4.5 million, a sum the state will pay, Gloucester County spokeswoman Debra Sellitto says.
The inmate transfers will begin in mid-June and are scheduled to be completed by July 1, when the jail will close, Sellitto says.
The public defender’s lawyer, Justin Loughry of Loughry and Lindsay in Camden, says: "We continue to believe that there’s compelling constitutional concerns" in "separating the body of clients, so to speak, from the Public Defender’s Office."
"We don’t feel discouragement" about Monday’s ruling, Loughry says. "We take positions because we believe in them and will continue to assert them."
William Tambussi of Brown & Connery in Westmont, who argued Monday on behalf of the defendants, did not respond to a call and email Wednesday. Gloucester County counsel Matthew Lyons also did not return a call.