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Mahoning Bar: Two judges enough


Published: Thu, November 15, 2012 @ 12:08 a.m.

By Peter H. Milliken

milliken@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The presiding and administrative judge of Youngstown Municipal Court said it doesn’t matter to her whether the court operates with two full-time judges or three, but, to eliminate uncertainty, she’d like a decision to be made soon.

Judge Elizabeth Kobly made her remarks after an announcement Wednesday by the Mahoning County Bar Association that it believes the court can operate efficiently with two full-time judges.

A vacancy was created by the retirement July 31 of Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr. Judge Douglas had 17 months left in his term.

Judge Kobly said she’d like to see decisive action soon, whether Gov. John Kasich appoints a replacement or the Ohio Legislature abolishes the seat.

“It’s dragged on way too long. The uncertainty isn’t helping anything, so the sooner it gets decided one way or the other, the better off we’ll be,” Judge Kobly said. “Right now, we’re up in the air with regard to scheduling” of cases based on visiting-judge availability, she explained.

Although its docket still is current, the court is being forced to eliminate night court in mid- December because Magistrate Anthony Sertick’s daytime workload has been increased because of Judge Douglas’ departure, Judge Kobly explained.

“We’ve always been current, and we’ll continue to stay that way regardless of what we need to do. We pride ourselves on that,” she said.

County Court Judges David D’Apolito and Diane Vettori sat as part-time visiting judges between July 31 and Oct. 31, and the Ohio Supreme Court has approved the continuation of Judge Vettori as a visiting judge through Jan. 31.

George Denney, court administrator, said the employment of Judge Douglas’ bailiff and secretary was terminated Nov. 2 due to a lack of work.

Judge Kobly said the status of the veteran’s, driver’s license suspension and housing specialty courts is unknown if the court is permanently reduced to two full-time judges.

Sarah Brown-Clark, municipal court clerk, said the availability and viability of the specialty courts, which “are very critical to an urban population,” could be reduced if the third judgeship is permanently eliminated.

“Operating with two judges would reduce expenses and align the court more closely with the city’s population and the court’s case volume, both of which have declined considerably in the past 10 years,” said Atty. Shirley J. Christian, bar association president.

Brown-Clark said she wants Kasich to appoint someone to fill Judge Douglas’ unexpired term. That would provide more time to study the municipal court’s needs in the context of potential consolidation of Mahoning County’s entire lower-court system, she said.

If abolishing Judge Douglas’ seat is justified, the abolition should become effective when the term ends at the end of 2013, she added.

Christian said the association is not taking a position on whether the third judgeship should be eliminated now or when another vacancy arises.

The next known open seat in Youngstown Municipal Court will occur five years from now when Judge Robert Milich will be legally barred from running again because of his age. State law forbids judges from starting a new term after their 70th birthdays.

State Rep. Robert Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, proposed in August to introduce a bill to abolish Judge Douglas’ seat, but agreed to postpone the introduction at the request of a majority of city council and several former council members.

The city’s three-judge system dates back to 1953, when Youngstown’s population was about 150,000. The city’s current population is about 66,000.

The current Youngstown Municipal Court caseload is insufficient to justify three full-time judges, Hagan said.

Brown-Clark said categories of court cases need to be separated in the Ohio Supreme Court’s case- reporting system that is used to compare the workloads and productivity of the courts to accurately reflect the number and types of cases in each category.

For example, she said traffic cases, in which a fine is mailed in without any court appearance, should be separated from cases that require court appearances when the workload and productivity comparisons are made.


Comments

1Photoman(1003 comments)posted 1 year, 10 months ago

As with any governmental position or agency---easy to create but really tough to eliminate.

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2busyman(239 comments)posted 1 year, 10 months ago

The side that is protesting is worried about who is going to loose their cushy city job. Just eliminate the position already. Someone needs to grow some B!!!!!!s and do it. Let the segment of our community that is protesting the process file a law suit and spend some money. We all know the reason why this position is protested so diligently by a coalition of city residents. If the numbers do not support it then cut it. They should also look at the salaries of the members of council. That article was swept under the rug quickly. Samarone can use that money to clean up the city.

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3DwightK(1256 comments)posted 1 year, 10 months ago

It's interesting that the side protesting the reduction is saying a third judge should be appointed so there will be enough time to study the issue. They aren't making the case for why a third judge would be needed. If they can't make that case right here, right now they don't need a third judge.

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4zz3(931 comments)posted 1 year, 10 months ago

you really only need one just to say "your released" or "we made a plea deal get out of here". Sarah Clark also should be part-time as needed, we need to cut the fat

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5walter_sobchak(1909 comments)posted 1 year, 10 months ago

Since the population density of Y-town does not exceed that of Austintown, Boardman, Struthers and Campbell why is it that they need CITY judges while these areas use county district courts. It is time to abolish the Youngstown courts system and its own clerk, realign the entire county district courts and have it under one system.

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