High court hears case of Warren man's claim
The prosecutor argues the man waited too long to claim his indigency.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS -- Inability to pay court costs should be addressed at sentencing and not years later, Assistant Trumbull County Prosecutor LuWayne Annos told the Ohio Supreme Court.
"The time to challenge the imposition of a court cost is at sentencing," she said Tuesday. The court's decision is pending.
The case stems from a former Warren resident's attempt to claim indigency.
A motion of this claim filed with the Trumbull County Common Pleas Court was accepted, and the portion of his sentence requiring Daniel Clevenger to pay court costs was suspended.
"The trial judge in this matter abused his discretion," Annos said.
She said it shouldn't have taken the man five years to file for indigency, and when he did, no indigency hearing was ever held and even the trial judge did not declare him indigent at any time.
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer also commented on the issue of the courts' assisting the man.
"It seems we have courts that are trying to accommodate him, but the concern is it seems to me they've changed the law," the chief justice said.
Effect on future cases
Annos also argued that while the amount of money the man owed was only 350 in this case, the outcome of the court's decision would affect future cases involving larger dollar amounts.
"Who picks up this burden?" Annos asked. "The people of Trumbull County and the people of Ohio pick up the burden."
Annos said during the five years between the sentence and his motion of indigency, Clevenger made no efforts to pay the fees, including using a payment plan option.
She said Clevenger made no effort to get a job and filed for indigency only when his application to receive Social Security assistance was denied.
In 1999, Clevenger was convicted of breaking and entering and sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay court costs. He reportedly violated the probation and was sentenced to six months in prison and to pay the costs of his prosecution.
Clevenger moved to Pennsylvania and applied for Social Security disability benefits in 2004, but he was reportedly denied the benefits because he had not paid the 1999 court costs.
He filed a motion claiming indigent status and requesting a suspension of the court costs. The trial court granted the motion suspending the portion of his sentence that involved paying court costs.
The state appealed, and the 11th District Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial court to revise its decision and show that Clevenger had been granted a suspension of the court costs and not a suspension of that portion of his sentence.
Cleveland attorney Michael Partlow represented Clevenger before the high court.
Partlow said he wasn't sure why the case was even before the high court. He pointed out the case was already returned to the trial court to review its decision.
Partlow also said he didn't think it would make a huge financial problem for the state no matter which way the court ruled.
Cites mental illness
He argued Clevenger is mentally ill, and the state would lose far more than the amount of court costs if the man is not able to receive his medical benefits and would be forced into an institution.
The mental illness prevents Clevenger from getting a job to repay the court fees, Partlow said.
Partlow agreed, however, that at the time the court costs were assessed, Clevenger was not indigent.
"Frankly, this case looks like he never intended to pay the court costs," Justice Moyer said. "My concern is that we don't write law here that's a bit of a stretch to help him out because he can't get his Medicaid benefits."