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OHIO Mayor's courts taking on fewer cases



Published: Tue, July 12, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The constitutionality of such courts have been in question.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Mayor's courts in Ohio handle fewer cases than their municipal court counterparts and are slightly less efficient in handling cases within recommended time limits, according to the first statewide review of the courts.

Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer has long argued that mayor's courts violate the constitutional separation of executive, lawmaking and judicial powers. He said the report bolsters the state Supreme Court's support of dismantling the courts.

Only Ohio and Louisiana have courts in which a mayor either hears cases or appoints a magistrate, according to a review by the National Center for State Courts. Ohio has 333 mayor's courts in 68 of its 88 counties, with 81 of the courts in the three most populous counties, said the report released Monday by the state Supreme Court.

Mayor's courts handled about 976 cases apiece in 2004, compared with 12,387 cases per municipal court.

Mayors or acting mayors presided over trials in 2,075 of about 338,000 cases last year, and magistrates handled 3,750. The overwhelming majority of cases are handled by a plea and fine before reaching trial.

Ohio mayors who are not licensed attorneys must appoint magistrates under a federal court ruling, but Justice Moyer argued that doesn't eliminate the link.

'Classic conflict'

"When the mayor is assessing fines against people, when virtually all that money goes into the budget or funds of that city, it's a classic conflict," Justice Moyer said.

"What the statistics say to me is we are not facing an insurmountable task to divert all these cases to municipal courts or county courts," he added.

The state didn't know how many mayor's courts there were or how many cases they handled until a 2003 state law required the courts to submit quarterly reports starting in January 2004, Justice Moyer said.

About 4,700 cases, or 1.4 percent of the total, were left pending beyond the Supreme Court's limits of handling a mayor's court case within six months. Municipal courts, which take in more complex cases including some felonies, left about 0.76 percent of cases hanging beyond recommended time limits.

The numbers don't give a true picture of the courts' efficiency, said Jackie Fugett, clerk of the Forest Park Mayor's Court near Cincinnati and president of the statewide clerks' association.

Mayor's courts offer a more personal and convenient outlet for traffic cases and minor complaints, Fugett said. "They're not just shuffled through," she said. "It would just cost your average person -- taxpayers -- more if they had to go to a larger municipal court."




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