Paul McKibben reports:
Warren County wants to know if it needs all of its part-time courts.
The county has three municipal courts (Mason, Lebanon and Franklin, each of which has one part-time judge) and a county court with two part-time judges.
Municipal and county courts in Ohio handle preliminary hearings in felony cases and adjudicate misdemeanor charges. The courts also hear civil cases in which the money disputed is less than $15,000.
Under one proposal, the Franklin and Lebanon municipal courts would divide between them the cases once handled by Donald Oda when he was a part-time Warren County Court judge. He was elected to the Warren County Common Pleas Court bench last year. Gary Loxley, an assistant Warren County prosecutor, will take over Oda’s county court seat in May. Common pleas court judges are full-time.
The plan also calls to keep vacant the seat of Warren County Court Judge Joseph Kirby and split his cases between the Franklin and Lebanon municipal courts. Kirby’s seat will become vacant when he takes over as Warren County probate/juvenile court judge April 29. Probate/juvenile is full-time.
Mason Municipal Court, with its one part-time judge, would not be affected; it could become full-time at any time because of the large population it serves (Mason and Deerfield Township), according to Franklin Municipal Court Judge Rupert Ruppert.
Warren County hired the Virginia-based National Center for State Courts to study the issue. Its work should be done by about June, when county officials will decide the best course of action. Consolidating the courts would require legislation from the Ohio General Assembly.
“Most citizens would agree you don’t necessarily need redundant courts,” Commissioner Dave Young said. “If you have courts that can do this, why do we have two?”
Commissioner Pat South said Mason didn’t express any interest in being included in the study. She said consolidation could mean savings for Lebanon, Franklin and the county.
“If we can find justification for consolidation within those three courts (Lebanon, Franklin and Warren County Court) in some manner, we will still be improving our overall court services and costs to taxpayers,” she said.
Oda told commissioners in December that he didn’t think operation of Warren County Court could be absorbed by Lebanon and Franklin without a substantial increase in costs to those courts. He said county court could not absorb Franklin and Lebanon without doing the same to the county.
Ruppert said his court might have to add one extra person if it absorbed half of Kirby’s cases along with half of Oda’s former cases.