Health officials get legal feedback on environmental court
By Ed Runyan
Officials with Trumbull County’s four health departments and others presented their vision Wednesday for a future in which environmental dangers such as open dumping are prosecuted and resolved efficiently.
It is a future in which a specialized “environmental court” like one in Franklin County would be created to consistently resolve the hundreds of environmental complaints they investigate each year.
These now are handled by municipal courts in Warren, Niles, Girard, Cortland and Brookfield, but health officials say environmental cases frequently are considered a low priority.
Warren Law Director Greg Hicks spoke favorably to the idea, saying the appointment of an attorney to prosecute environmental cases might not be much different from the way Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins now assigns an attorney to prosecute misdemeanor cases through county courts in Brookfield and Cortland.
“It’s not unprecedented,” Hicks said of countywide courts handling misdemeanor offenses that cross municipal boundaries. Portage County’s municipal courts are set up that way, he noted.
There could be zoning rules that differ from one part of the court’s jurisdiction to another, but that could be overcome, he said.
Detective Patrick Marsico, environmental officer for Warren, said the environmental court in Franklin County struggled during its inception in the early 1990s, but it ironed out those problems.
Hicks said money to pay for the court is “always No. 1 in everything,” and there would be a variety of costs associated with the court — a full- or part-time prosecutor, magistrate and court personnel to handle filings.
It isn’t clear where the court would be housed. Some of the existing court locations — Warren Municipal Court, for example — wouldn’t be able to accommodate an additional docket, Hicks said.
Mike Wilson, director of the Trumbull County Soil and Water Conservation District, said his organization is an example of ones that are willing to contribute money to run the court. TCSWCD deals with stormwater issues that sometimes need prosecution.
One of the largest spenders on environmental enforcement is the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste District, which receives tipping fees from the landfills.
It pays the salaries of environmental officers at the Warren Police Department and Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office and pays some of the salary of an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, said Robert Villers, its director.
But it isn’t getting much enforcement for the money it spends, he said. “I know there are a lot of details to work out, but I think this makes sense,” Villers said of starting an environmental court.