Judicial officer presides
Judge Krichbaum wants lawyers to have faith in his magistrate.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- It wasn't just another trial to determine who was at fault in a traffic accident.
A verdict was reached at noon Wednesday in the first civil jury trial in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court at which a magistrate presided.
The trial also was the first time that Magistrate Timothy G. Welsh shared a courtroom with his father, T. Gordon Welsh, who served as his bailiff. Gordon Welsh is retired after a long career as a bailiff and administrator of common pleas court.
The family connection wasn't disclosed to the jury until after the trial had ended. "They thought it was neat," Timothy Welsh said.
Welsh is one of five magistrates who work with general division judges in common pleas court. Two of the five magistrates were hired in April with hopes of expediting cases on the judges' dockets.
Magistrates are appointed judicial officers who are authorized to lead court proceedings and write opinions and decisions. Their role in criminal cases is mostly limited to arraignments, bond hearings and extradition hearings.
Magistrates have more authority in civil cases, including the ability to preside at trial as long as both parties agree to it, Welsh said.
Magistrates must be Mahoning County residents, have six years' experience at practicing law, be members in good standing with the county bar association and close their private practices.
Trial began Monday in the courtroom of Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, with whom Welsh works. The parties already agreed to the amount of damages in the case, so jurors only had to decide which driver caused the crash.
"The fact that I think a judge of his caliber would entrust in me the authority to preside over a jury trial is very flattering," Welsh said of Judge Krichbaum.
It gave Welsh experience and "demonstrates to the bar association that [Welsh] is available, capable and impartial, so they can trust their cases to him," Judge Krichbaum said.
Welsh has been a magistrate for nearly two years. As he prepared to preside at trial, he relied on his experiences as a bailiff for now-U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus, formerly of common please court, and his 16 years as a trial attorney. In the end, the case was "fairly uneventful" for him, he said.
Having his father as his bailiff "definitely increased my comfort level to a degree," Welsh said. Besides Gordon Welsh's experience, his people skills "puts jurors at rest as well" and helps them to focus on the case, Welsh said.
Gordon Welsh stepped in to help because Judge Krichbaum needed his bailiff to proceed with other cases, Welsh said.
"It was a fun thing for me because, you know, I've been around here for a million years and I've been through a million trials, but this one had an edge for me," Gordon Welsh said.
Gordon Welsh didn't doubt his son's ability, but he said he was "pleasantly surprised" at how clearly Welsh explained a complicated set of instructions to the jury. Gordon Welsh believes that's why jurors needed only about 40 minutes to reach a verdict, which was for the plaintiff.
Though father and son say they would work together again, it may not happen soon. Of the thousands of civil cases that are filed each year in common pleas court, Welsh estimates that only 10 percent of them actually go to trial.