By Marc Kovac
Gov. John Kasich signed legislation eliminating a seat on Youngstown Municipal Court, about one month after it was introduced among last-minute bills in the Legislature’s lame-duck session.
House Bill 606 technically won’t take effect for 90 days, but its impact already has been felt. The seat has been vacant since August after the retirement of Robert A. Douglas Jr. as judge and Kasich’s decision not to fill it while legislation was being considered.
The governor signed the bill Thursday.
The three-judge system had been in place in Youngstown for decades and was established when the city had about 150,000 residents. The community now has about 67,000 residents.
According to statistics compiled by the Ohio Supreme Court, there were 13,000-plus criminal, civil and traffic cases before the court last year, amounting to 4,421 per judge. That’s less than half the statewide average of 9,629 cases. With two judges, the average would be about 6,600 cases.
According to a fiscal analysis by the state’s Legislative Service Commission, the change will save the city more than $73,000 and the state nearly $64,000 annually in salary and related payroll expenses.
“We’re saving money,” said state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, who co- sponsored the legislation. “It’s not just about Youngstown or Youngstown’s money. There’s state money involved in this, and if we can save money in a system that is not overwhelmed, that’s underwhelmed in its responsibilities, I think we have the responsibility to rectify it.”
“The Ohio Supreme Court, the Mahoning County Bar Association, and the experts at the National Center of State Courts all agree that court consolidation is the right thing to do,” said state Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th. “I’m pleased that the Legislature heeded the call for responsiveness and fiscal responsibility in our court system.”
Hagan did not attend the bill signing, however, voicing frustration with the governor’s decision to sign legislation that will allow guns stored in cars parked in the Ohio Statehouse.
Opponents of the court bill say the elimination of a Youngstown judge should have waited until a study on the county’s lower-court system is finished.