One judge questioned the reliability of clerk of court records, calling the records atrocious.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Loud-music offenders with multiple offenses and uninsured drivers who have felt only a judicial slap on the wrist can expect to feel a heavier hand next time.
At a recent criminal justice committee meeting, Municipal Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly explained to her colleagues how her bailiff uses the clerk of courts computer to track repeat loud-music offenders before they appear for arraignment. Once they're in front of her, the judge lets them know the offense level and penalties they face.
The issue surfaced earlier this month when The Vindicator reported that, owing to a combination of errors, Waddell L. Casey didn't have to go to jail for up to 60 days, pay a mandatory $600 fine or forfeit his sound equipment. The 24-year-old Campbell man's third loud-music offense was treated as his first, a minor misdemeanor, and assigned to a magistrate, who only levied a $50 fine.
Had Casey's record been checked before he appeared for arraignment in Judge Robert P. Milich's court, the case would have been assigned to a judge. Magistrates cannot impose jail time.
Laura McLaughlin, court administrator, said the city prosecutor has discussed the problem with the city Police Chief Richard Lewis, who has instructed officers to note on the ticket they write which loud-music offense level applies.
Foresees problems: Judge Kobly wondered how officers would know with certainty, whereas the judges could easily verify.
"We would know at arraignment," Judge Kobly pointed out to Judges Milich and Robert A. Douglas Jr. "Can't you just punch it up on the computer?"
Judge Douglas said he could but added that it's helpful to have the ticket marked as a multiple offense.
Judge Milich said there's been a problem since the reassignment of the traffic officer who used to write "first," "second," "third" or "fourth" offense on the case file before the defendant appeared for arraignment.
"The other issue is the reliability of the records," Judge Milich said. He called the records "atrocious."
Judge Kobly said she doesn't have a problem and repeated that she just tells the defendant at arraignment the offense level and what penalties he faces. She turned to Ted T. Macejko Jr., president of the Mahoning County Bar Association, and asked if he had a problem with the way she does it.
"Not at all," Macejko said. "It's the perfect way to do it."
"It all falls back on the courts," Judge Kobly said.
License suspension: Judge Kobly then offered to put in place a program to handle license plate impoundment and vehicle forfeiture, as required by law, for those who drive with a suspended license. The No. 1 crime in the city, the judge has said, involves motorists who continue to drive despite having their license suspended because of lack of insurance.
No process has been in place at municipal court to follow the law, Judge Kobly said. She has been on the bench for about 10 months; Judge Douglas since December 1997; and Judge Milich since April 1998.
The law states that drivers who violate the suspension will have their car immobilized and the plates confiscated for 30 days on the first offense and 60 days for the second. Vehicles can be forfeited and sold for those caught three times driving with a suspended license.
Judge Kobly, when interviewed earlier this month about the number of uninsured drivers who continue to drive without a valid license, said police and prosecutors haven't pursued the forfeiture program. She, though, tells defendants in her court that they are subject to losing their cars.
"There's been no consequence for these people," Judge Kobly told her colleagues at the criminal justice meeting.
Judge Milich said an assistant city prosecutor has been looking into the forfeiture procedure. "It's just of one of the thousand things we have to do," he said.
Judge Kobly said she'd take the initiative.