Overhaul of four lower courts will resume

The audit findings support what a local planning group already had begun.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Plans to overhaul Mahoning County's four lower courts will move forward again, now that the state has completed a performance audit of the court system.
Mark Huberman, chairman of the county's corrections planning board, said he'll convene the panel immediately to resume the system overhaul, which was put on hold while the audit was pending.
The county has area courts in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring, which handle traffic cases, misdemeanor criminal matters and civil cases. The judges serve part time, which allows them to maintain their private law practice.
One way to go: Among the audit's recommendations was that the judgeships be switched to full time and the county consider consolidating the courts.
It suggested either eliminating the Sebring court, or consolidating all four courts into one central location.
A total consolidation would result in savings of $256,800 a year in rent payments, which could be put toward the new building, the audit says.
Those recommendations are in line with a plan already set in motion by the corrections planning board, which started pushing for full-time judges in 2000.
It came up with a plan to eliminate the four part-time positions and replace them with three full-timers.
Austintown and Boardman would each have a judge, and the third would split time between Canfield and Sebring.
The corrections planning board also has talked about consolidating the courts, but not for several years.
Youngstown court: Ohio Auditor Jim Petro said Wednesday that the panel should consider expanding the consolidation plan to include Youngstown Municipal Court, though he acknowledged it would be a controversial step.
The planning board put the brakes on its overhaul plans in July, opting to wait to see what the audit report recommended for the court system.
"It appears that the audit adds credence to our belief that part-time judicial positions is an idea whose time has come and gone in Mahoning County," Huberman said.

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