By Hannah Poling
Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Stephanie Mingo attended the March 17 Westland Area Commission meeting to give the community an update on the work of the environmental court.
Mingo handles three types of cases – civil cases involving public nuisance properties, criminal cases that create a public nuisance, and animal abuse, neglect and bite cases. Mingo specifically wanted to address the topic of civil cases involving properties of public nuisance with the commissioners.
The city of Columbus or county prosecutor may deem a property to be a public nuisance if it is to be found in violation of housing, building, zoning or health or safety codes. An example of this type of violation would be a home where the roof or gutters are in disrepair with vehicles parked in the backyard. Or it could be a vacant property, which is not boarded with tall grass and noxious weeds.
In 2020, 646 nuisance property cases were filed in environmental court.
Another type of case is when the property is being used for illegal activity such as a drug house, or human trafficking.
“Environmental court has seen an uptick in the increase of cases we are discussing this evening,” said Mingo.
Many cases of gun violence, which leads to assault or homicide, originate from some sort of nuisance property. An investigation into these cases leads to a case filing in environmental court.
“The court deals specifically with the nuisance properties associated with these crimes and getting them shut down for the safety of the community,” said Mingo.
The court has several ways to deal with nuisance properties. Typically if a property is in violation of a housing, building, or zoning code, the court will order the property to be brought into compliance within 60 days. If the property is not brought into compliance, they can order the city to go onto the property to fix the issue at the expense of the owner.
If the owner fails to bring the property into compliance, they can be held in contempt of the court with fines ranging from $100 to $250 a day.
If the property is used for illegal purposes, the court can order that the property be vacated and boarded up. The property could be shut down for up to one year.
“I hope this gives you some perspective on how environmental court can impact our community,” said Mingo. “It’s a matter of hearing the evidence before the property gets shut down so the next homicide or overdose does not happen on that property.”
The judge encouraged residents to be report these types of issues.
“You are the eyes and ears of the neighborhood and without your 311 calls and your code enforcement, these cases would not make it into environmental court,” she said.
In other news, Sergeant Frederick Brophy from the Columbus Police Department made a statement to remind the community to take caution with the recent increase in vehicle theft. Most of the recently stolen vehicles in the area were warming up with the keys left in the ignition.
“We don’t want to be our own victims,” said Brophy.
The division of police is working in collaboration with many different agencies to address issues and create crime reduction in the summer months when the crime typically increases.