A 4-3 vote by Youngstown City Council in support of the archaic, financially unsustainable municipal court does not deserve serious consideration by the Ohio General Assembly. The judgment of the city’s lawmakers on issues of great importance to the community is cockeyed, to put it kindly.
As we noted in an editorial in August when council decided to place on the Nov. 6 ballot only four of the 17 charter amendments recommended by a citizens committee, “Members of council have clearly demonstrated that they can’t be trusted to act in the best interest of the residents of Youngstown.”
With regard to the municipal court, the General Assembly should listen to the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Maureen O’Connor, who has studied the city judiciary.
In a letter to Gov. John Kasich, the chief justice advised against filling the vacancy on the court created with the retirement of Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr. The governor has the statutory authority to appoint state judges.
O’Connor is on record as supporting a reorganization of the courts in Mahoning County below the common pleas level. The creation of a countywide metropolitan court system to replace the municipal courts in Youngstown, Campbell and Struthers, the four county courts and the mayor’s courts has been talked about for three decades.
But with the chief justice weighing in, the goal is within reach.
There is another reason why the Youngstown Municipal Court does not need three judges: Its caseload is so low that it would be hard-pressed to justify two judges.
At least two independent studies have shown that there isn’t enough work for the huge staffs maintained by the court and the clerk of courts’ office.
The General Assembly should also listen to Mayor Charles Sammarone, who is pushing to cut the cost of government at all levels and sees the court as a major drain on the public treasury.
Lastly, the state legislators should talk to officials in the governor’s office who have made it clear that Kasich does not intend to fill the vacancy, but wants the General Assembly to pass legislation eliminating the judgeship.
And then there’s the politics of the issue. While the chief justice and the governor are Republicans, and the state Senate and House are controlled by the GOP, a leading Democrat in Mahoning County has been in the forefront of the reorganization of the courts below the common pleas level.
David Betras, chairman of the county Democratic Party and a well-known lawyer in the Valley, is adamant about bringing the criminal justice system into the 21st century.
Much to the chagrin of members of his party, Betras has made it clear that neither the administration of justice, nor the interest of taxpayers is served by maintaining the status quo.
It is ironic that the chairman of the Republican Party, Mark Munroe, had come out in favor of Gov. Kasich filling the vacancy on the Youngstown court.
In reviewing this issue, the leaders of the General Assembly should ask themselves the following question: Does city council have any credibility on this or any other major topic?
The answer is clearly no. The four lawmakers who voted in favor of a resolution urging the maintenance of the three-judge court system are not to be taken seriously.