The installation of Atty. Michael D. Harlan as president of the Mahoning County Bar Association received little attention, but it could turn out to be a significant development with regard to the future of the court system.
Harlan’s selection comes in the midst of a study of court consolidation below the common pleas level being conducted by the National Center for State Courts based in Williamsburg, Va.
The study is made possible by a $50,000 grant from the State Justice Institute. The money was secured by Harlan’s predecessor, Atty. Scott Cochran, who had made the reorganization of the municipal and county courts a top priority.
Now, it will be up to Harlan to not only publicize the results of the study, but to formulate a strategy for implementing them — especially if the recommendations are to get rid of the municipal courts in Youngstown, Campbell and Struthers and the county courts in Boardman, Austintown, Canfield and Sebring and replace them with a countywide metropolitan court system.
There is one encouraging aspect to Harlan’s presidency: He is a law associate of Atty. David Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, and a strong advocate for getting rid of the current archaic court system.
It was Betras who, after becoming party chairman, put consolidation on the front burner and urged the bar association to take a leadership role in bringing about the necessary changes.
While no one is suggesting that Betras is pulling Harlan’s string, anyone who knows the party chairman would not be surprised if he takes every opportunity to sell the idea of consolidation to his law associate.
The National Center for State Courts, an independent, nonprofit entity that studies court systems with an eye to improving them, will provide an objective analysis of the criminal justice system that has been called dysfunctional by a special master.
The center is using the $50,000 grant, as well as contributing $15,000 in staff time for the study. There was a requirement for a $5,000 local match for the grant, which former President Cochran sought from local entities.