Nearly five years after Youngstown Municipal Court judges filed a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court over the conditions of the court facility, a hearing is scheduled for March 17 to hear arguments from both sides on the matter.
But John A. McNally, mayor since Jan. 1 and an attorney, said he’d like to “put the litigation behind us and find a new home for the courts.”
“After spending the past year representing people in the Youngstown courts and seeing the chaos that goes on with the crowds, I’d like to find a new home for the courts,” he said.
The Supreme Court put the hearing date on this case Wednesday.
Law Director Martin Hume and John B. Juhasz, the judges’ attorney, are expected to meet shortly to see if the case can be settled before the March 17 hearing in Columbus in front of Andrew J. Campbell, a special master selected by the Ohio Supreme Court on June 1, 2012.
“The goal is to get it done before the hearing, but it’s a big case, and it’s been around for a long time,” Hume said. “If it’s not resolved by March 17, we’ll go to the special master. A resolution can happen before, during or after the hearing.”
Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly, Youngstown Municipal Court’s presiding and administrative judge, said she was excited that a hearing date is on the docket.
“This is great news,” Judge Kobly said of the scheduled hearing. “This is progress. I’m feeling a little optimistic at this point. Mayor McNally’s comments [about wanting to settle] were pleasantly surprising. It’s sat for so long that it’s covered in ice. A hearing date takes it off languishing status. It’s sat for way too long.”
She added that McNally and Hume “have practiced here and know what a dungeon this is. They know how unsafe it is.”
The judge filed a complaint in May 2009 with the state’s high court demanding the city administration and council be compelled to provide the court with “suitable accommodations.”
An effort to resolve the issue through mediation failed in April 2010, and the case went back to the Supreme Court a month later. Little happened until the court ruled Jan. 11, 2012, that a special master would be appointed for the case. It took until June 1, 2012, for Campbell to be selected for that position.
Since then, numerous depositions of current and former city officials were taken with little else occurring.
If the hearing proceeds, it could take up to five days. Campbell would issue findings of facts and a written recommendation “within a reasonable time after the conclusion of the hearing,” according to the docket entry.
After that, the two sides have 30 days to file objections to the recommendation and then another 20 days after to file a reply to any objections from the opposing party. Then, the Supreme Court would consider the matter.
In early 2010, the judges wanted the city to spend about $8 million to renovate the city hall annex, on the corner of Front and Market streets, as a new courthouse.
The city countered with a scaled-down $6 million renovation.
Municipal court on the second floor of city hall, 26 S. Phelps St., has been a concern for the judges for more than 15 years. The complaints include security problems, cramped quarters, and poor ventilation.
Security problems reached a peak during a July 14, 2010, brawl in the hallway between family members of a suspect and murder victim.
McNally wants to use the second floor for city offices — including community development, economic development and buildings and grounds — that are housed at either the annex or the city-owned 20 Federal Place on West Federal Street.