By David Skolnick
A hearing, which starts Monday, on a complaint from Youngstown Municipal Court judges over court-facility conditions will keep some city officials in Columbus for up to five days and require others to travel there to testify instead of handling their normal responsibilities.
“We’re going to survive,” said Law Director Martin Hume. “It’s a little bit of an inconvenience, but we’ll deal with it.”
“It doesn’t shut down city government,” said Mayor John A. McNally. “Technology allows us to govern from afar.”
Hume and other members of the city’s law department filed a request Feb. 14 with Andrew J. Campbell, a special master selected by the Ohio Supreme Court to handle this matter, to move the hearing from Columbus to Youngstown.
All but one of the 24 witnesses expected to testify at the hearing reside in Youngstown, and having it heard in Columbus would result in “significant expenses for travel and lodging” with “most, if not all, of the cost” paid by “taxpayers, as all parties and most witnesses are public officials,” according to the filing.
The filing also stated it would be a “detriment to the function of city government from the absences of so many public officials.”
But Campbell, who lives in the Columbus area, rejected the request.
“I’m not the decision-maker,” Hume said. “It would have been more convenient. Hopefully, people won’t have to spend days” in Columbus.
City council is supposed to meet March 19, the same day McNally, Finance Director David Bozanich and Buildings and Grounds Commissioner Sean McKinney are to testify in Columbus. Council members are scheduled to testify Monday and Tuesday, Hume said.
Hume and Deputy Law Director Anthony Farris will be in Columbus for the entire hearing.
Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert P. Milich said he and Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly “have the entire week blocked out and are having visiting judges come in.”
The judges, who will stay at a hotel across the street from the Supreme Court, are “planning for the hearing to take a week,” said Judge Milich, the court’s administrative and presiding judge.
“We wanted to have it here; it would have been a lot easier,” he said.
The judges didn’t file a motion requesting to move the hearing to Youngstown.
Monday’s hearing comes nearly five years after the judges filed a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court over the conditions of the court facility.
In May 2009, the judges sought to have 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.
Campbell was appointed by the court in June 2012 to handle this case.
Campbell is to issue findings of fact and a written recommendation “within a reasonable time after the conclusion of the hearing,” according to a docket entry.
After that, the two sides have 30 days to file objections to the recommendations and then an additional 20 days after to file a reply to any objections from the opposing party. The Supreme Court makes the final decision.
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 $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 with complaints of security problems, cramped quarters and poor ventilation.
McNally, an attorney who’s been mayor since January, said he wants to negotiate a relocation of the courts with the judges, and use the second floor for city offices that are housed at the annex and the city-owned 20 Federal Place on West Federal Street.