As much as I like the idea that we could work around our use case, we cannot for the following reasons.
1. Our database is hosted and getting a change request through the vendor's approval process is time consuming and costs money.
2. We need to response to the situation in a pro-active, going-forward manner, not reactive and trying-to-clean-up the situation manner.
3. We need the system to route to a designated proxy because we cannot know who is selecting to route to this user as owner
In addition, It would be bad manners (and maybe even illegal) to send a broadcast communication to not assign due to "whatever circumstances".
We found a legal way to work around, but the manual process is arduous to monitor this user's action items and re-route specfications. I will get the ER submitted. I am absolutely astounded that no one else has requested this functionality. It makes no sense to us that an application built in 1997 would not have some method to re-assign work when others are away already in the design. I have marked this as answered.