A traditional arm of the local judiciary could be on the way out as the Ohio General Assembly considers a bill to abolish mayor’s courts in the state’s municipalities.
Speaking at Groveport Village Council’s July 16 committee of the whole meeting, Groveport Law Director Kevin Shannon stated that Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer has expressed his concerns about mayor’s courts to the state legislature.
"The legislature has listened and House Bill (HB) 154 is their attempt to address those concerns," said Shannon.
If approved, HB 154 would abolish mayor’s courts effective Jan. 1, 2008. The bill would create a community court that replaces mayor’s court in towns with a population of 1,600 or more. Villages with a population below 1,600 would have to send all their cases to the county municipal court.
A mayor would not be permitted to preside over a community court. Instead, a magistrate approved by the county municipal court administrative judge (which in Franklin County is Franklin County Municipal Court Judge James Green) would preside over the community court. Additionally, the clerk of court for the community court would be recommended by the town council, but would have to be approved by the magistrate.
Unlike a mayor’s court, a community court would be a court of record. Under a mayor’s court, a defendant who did not like the ruling of that court, could simply start his case over at the county municipal court. But, if a community court is in place, a defendant who disagreed with that court’s decision would have to formally file an appeal with the appropriate court of appeals having jurisdiction over the community court.
Shannon noted that the handling of fines under a community court "shouldn’t change dramatically."
Shannon added the state legislature could vote on HB 154 in November or December.
Ohio Municipal League opposes bill
In its July 16 "Legislative Bulletin," the Ohio Municipal League (OML) stated its opposition to HB 154 calling the bill "a solution in search of a problem" and adding that the OML believes mayor’s courts are "efficient, effective, convenient, and fair."
Additionally, the OML said the elimination of mayor’s courts, especially in smaller towns, could result in a loss of revenues leading to the elimination of municipal services, most notably an inability to fund municipal police departments.
"…for the citizens of those villages who rely upon those officers for their safety, this bill has no regard," according to the OML.
The OML also cites the inconvenience HB 154 could cause for police officers and citizens who would have to travel many miles to county municipal court rather than attending a nearby mayor’s court.
About Groveport’s mayor’s court
Currently, Mayor Lance Westcamp does not preside over the village of Groveport’s mayor’s court. Instead the town’s mayor’s court is presided over by a magistrate who is under contract with the village.
According to the village of Groveport’s Web site, "A magistrate must have been admitted to the practice of law in Ohio and, for a total of at least three years preceding the person’s appointment or the commencement of the person’s service as magistrate, have been engaged in the practice of law in Ohio or served as a judge of a court of record in any jurisdiction in the United States."
A mayor’s court, according to the village of Groveport, "…has jurisdiction, subject to restrictions in the Ohio Revised Code, to hear and determine any prosecution for the violation of an ordinance of the municipal corporation, any case involving a violation of a vehicle parking or standing ordinance of the municipal corporation and determine all criminal causes involving any moving traffic violation occurring on a state highway located within the boundaries of the municipal corporation."