Judge James C. Evans of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court has sent a letter to the Ohio Supreme Court requesting the appointment of a visiting judge to handle the 100-and-growing asbestos-related cases. It is not an unreasonable request, and there certainly is precedence for such action. We urge the justices to act expeditiously.
This isn't about the five common pleas judges, Evans, R. Scott Krichbaum, Maureen Cronin, Robert Lisotto and Jack Durkin, shirking their responsibilities. It's about the timely and proper administration of justice.
As Evans noted in his letter to the high court, " ... the hope of avoiding trial is high in many of these cases if dedicated judicial oversight can be applied; and by assigning a single judge to the docket, issues of consolidated case management and consistency of rulings are summarily addressed."
The number of civil lawsuits filed by individuals who say they contracted asbestosis through their jobs keeps growing, and the local courts are having a difficult time dealing with these cases while at the same time managing their regular dockets.
Recognizing how burdensome asbestos-related lawsuits can be on the common pleas courts, especially those in industrialized counties, the supreme court has appointed visiting judges to deal exclusively with such cases. Lucas and Summit counties have been granted the services of special judges. There isn't any reason Mahoning County can't have one judge dealing with this important legal and health matter.
As Evans noted, there are 100 cases now before the common pleas court and many of those are 2001 workers' compensation appeals that have not been addressed because of workload constraints. The court is projecting at least twice the number of filings this year.
It's a situation that demands immediate action by the Ohio Supreme Court. The five judges of the general division of the common pleas bench are already dealing with a large docket. The court averages 722 cases per judge and disposes of about 900 cases per judge each year.
In addition to which, there are problems inherent in randomly assigning asbestos-related cases among the five judges. For one thing, there is no uniformity as to how the cases are dealt with, giving rise to the possibility of conflicting opinions on identical issues. Such conflicts make the court look foolish, says Robert Rupeka, common pleas administrator.
Another problem is the complexity of the litigation. In Ohio, for example, there are two or three law firms that specialize in filing asbestos-related lawsuits. Likewise, there should be judges who have the time and the desire to preside over such cases.