By Ed Runyan
The Trumbull County Board of Health is hoping to join forces with the health departments in Warren, Niles and Girard to create an environmental court, possibly at the county level, to resolve matters such as illegal dumping.
The health departments are inviting various stakeholders such as court officials, representatives from prosecutors’ offices and others to a meeting at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the idea. It will take place in Warren City Council chambers at 141 South St.
Dr. James Enyeart, Trumbull County health commissioner, said creating an environmental court is a goal that came out of the public health accreditation process that included a public meeting last fall.
Trumbull County public-health stakeholders, including the four health departments, discussed the community’s public-health strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. From that and other meetings, the group established priorities for action, including the environmental court.
The proposal to be discussed is whether a position can be created to assist with the prosecution of environmental cases and attempt to have a magistrate assigned to hear the cases instead of a judge.
It’s not established whether the prosecutor would work under Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins or another office, and it’s not established whether such a court would fall under the jurisdiction of the Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, Dr. Enyeart said.
Wednesday’s meeting will involve discussion of the types of cases that need to be handled and the legal aspects of forming such a court. Such courts have been created in Youngstown and Columbus and across the United States, Dr. Enyeart said.
Vindicator files indicate that Youngstown has a housing court at the municipal-court level whose mission is to enforce housing codes regarding the appearance and condition of properties in the city. It was called the housing/environmental court when it was established in 2005.
Dr. Enyeart mentioned the need for a different type of legal process for handling matters relating to unsafe homes, water wells and septic systems and illegal dumping in 2007, saying the method of prosecuting such matters through municipal and county courts in Trumbull County was not working efficiently.
He said Wednesday those challenges remain.
The courts have varying requirements that can make it difficult for sanitarians to efficiently process cases, Dr. Enyeart said.
Some cases dragged on indefinitely, causing frustration among local officials such as township trustees, he said.