Court consolidation hits snag
By Marc Kovac
State lawmakers support the idea of consolidating two Trumbull County courts, but some Democrats in the Ohio House aren’t backing provisions to accomplish that task that were added to another bill that passed the Ohio Senate last month.
At issue is whether the new full-time judge of the proposed court should be subject to an election next year or in 2017.
House Bill 433 was approved by the Ohio House last month and focused solely on a court consolidation in Sandusky County.
The Ohio Senate amended the legislation to include comparable language for Trumbull County, abolishing two county courts and replacing them with a new Trumbull County Municipal Court.
The cost-saving move is supported by the county commissioners and county bar association.
“In both counties [Trumbull and Sandusky], the courts in question have annual caseloads which could easily be handled by a single full-time judge,” said Sen. Larry Obhof, a Republican from the Medina area, in urging support for the legislation late last month. “These consolidations will save these counties in the state thousands of dollars in judicial salary alone.”
Under the bill, the two existing part-time judges in Trumbull County — one Republican, one Democrat — would continue to serve until the end of the year, at which time the Republican incumbent would become the lone full-time judge in the new court. The Democratic incumbent is running unopposed in November for common pleas court.
Under HB 433, the new municipal court judge would serve until the end of 2017 and have to seek re-election that year.
But Democratic Reps. Tom Letson, from Warren, and Sean O’Brien, representing the southeastern portion of Trumbull County, introduced separate legislation calling for the court consolidation but requiring an election next year.
“It would require that an election be held for a new Trumbull County Municipal Court in 2013 so that a new judge for the new district could be seated starting Jan. 1, 2014,” Letson said, adding later, “My bill just moves up the time period when the people affected by this consolidation get to have their voice.”
The bills would require an emergency clause so that their provisions would take effect immediately, so Democratic support is needed in the Ohio House for passage.
Lawmakers could act on either bill next week, during what are expected to be their final voting sessions before the summer recess.