MAHONING COUNTY Officials: Enforce ban on smoking inside courthouse
Commissioners will seek help from city council in their fight against smoking.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Walk up the steps in front of the Mahoning County Courthouse on any given day during business hours and chances are you'll see at least one person standing outside with a cigarette.
Smoking is supposed to be off-limits in the courthouse, so most employees and visitors go outside to light up. But some officeholders allow smoking in their offices, as long as it does not interfere with the public or nonsmoking employees.
That bothers some elected officials, who say the no-smoking policy should be observed by all or none.
"I think it's unfair if we prohibit the public from smoking in the building and don't similarly enforce that prohibition with others," said Judge Jack Durkin of common pleas court, who does not allow smoking in his offices.
"If there is going to be a rule, I think it should apply to all of us."
Resolution in '94: That was the intent of county commissioners when they passed a resolution in March 1994 declaring the courthouse and all county buildings smoke-free. They reaffirmed the resolution in 1998.
Commissioners hoped all public officials would comply and encourage their employees to do the same, said county administrator Gary Kubic. Under Ohio law, commissioners can't pass enforceable laws so there is no penalty for those who don't comply.
The resolution was passed as a health issue, to provide clean air for people who visit or work at the courthouse, Kubic said.
It's also a safety and liability issue, he said. Last summer, a small fire started in the courthouse basement because of a smoldering cigarette butt tossed into a trash can.
There was no damage from the fire, but Kubic used it as a reminder to officeholders about the smoking ban.
Enforcement has still been lax since then, said Treasurer John Reardon. He does not allow smoking in the main offices, but sometimes closes the door to his private office, opens a window and smokes a cigarette.
"I would never have dreamed of doing that before," Reardon said. "But then when you look around and see judges and prosecutors doing it, I figured why not?"
What's being planned: That's why commissioners are planning another step in their anti-smoking campaign.
"We were hoping the resolution would do it and people would willingly comply," Kubic said. "That's not happening universally, so we're going to have to push harder."
He said commissioners will turn to Youngstown City Council for help.
As a charter city with home-rule powers, council has the authority to create local laws. Kubic said commissioners will ask council to consider passing a law banning smoking in all public buildings, which would include the courthouse.
Kubic said he's not sure whether courthouse deputies would actually cite a judge or lawyer for smoking if such a law is passed, but hopes that would not be necessary.
Council President Charles P. Sammarone said if commissioners ask, council will consider the issue. "Now whether they will pass it or not, I don't know."
Allowing smoking: Linda Cappelli, victim-witness coordinator, said she allows victims to smoke in the building for their own safety. Sending them outside could expose them to harassment or intimidation from other witnesses, she said.
Prosecutor Paul Gains is one of the elected officials who allow their employees to smoke in the building. They can smoke only in his office or in an adjoining office, which are separate from the rest of the staff, he said.
His employees are more productive if they don't have to drop what they're doing to go outside and smoke, he said.
If council passes the citywide smoking ban, he'll abide by it. Gains also said judges have the authority to establish their own rules for smoking in the courthouse.
Judge Maureen A. Cronin does not allow smoking in her offices or chambers, and doesn't think anyone should smoke in the courthouse.
"I think it's disgusting," she said, noting that she called Kubic two years ago and suggested that commissioners seek help from the city because she was appalled that so many people smoked in the building.
"The joke is that some of the lawyers run to another courtroom to smoke before they come here," Judge Cronin said. "Some of them hide in the restrooms to smoke."
Trying to accommodate: Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of common pleas court allows smoking in his chambers, outer offices and jury room, and said many of the lawyers take a smoke break there. Although he respects the commissioners' intent, he said judges, not commissioners, make rules for the courts.
"I'm no more wrong to allow it than someone is to disallow it," Judge Krichbaum said, noting that he tries to accommodate both smokers and nonsmokers who come to his court. He does not permit smoking in the courtroom.
Judge James C. Evans said officeholders should "take a little more stringent notice" of the no-smoking resolution.
"I think the county commissioners have a good objective in passing the resolution and I think it should be honored," he said.
Clerk of Courts Anthony Vivo said a city ordinance should not be necessary because officeholders should voluntarily comply with the resolution. He does not smoke, and requires his employees who smoke to go outside.
"Sometimes in the winter, I come in here and it might be 10 degrees outside and I see my people outside on the steps because I tell them that's the rule," Vivo said. "Ninety-five percent of the courthouse employees go outside."