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A Tale of Two Courts
November 30, 2012 - Joe Gorman
Court consolidation and downsizing is being considered in both Trumbull and Mahoning counties. But it seems like only one of them may make any progress.
In Trumbull County, sitting Eastern District Court Judge Thomas Campbell has proposed paring the district court system from two courts to one, citing declining population and revenues. The plan would have been for Campbell to preside over the single court after Eastern District Court Judge Ron Rice chose not to run for reelection.
It sounded like a great idea. Downsizing and consolidation are big words, in media and the government. Anyone who was Anyone was on board with The Plan.
Funny thing is, nothing ever happened. Trumbull's Democratic members of the statehouse proposed a bill to combine the courts in 2013, which would keep the Republican Campbell out of the seat which he would have held till 2017. One of those sponsors of the bill said calls for an immediate election are justified because the state Supreme Court does not allow the legislature to appoint judges. So the Sure Thing remains on the back burner for awhile.
In Mahoning County, there are dueling court plans floating around, calling for combining the lower county courts and municipal courts into one metropolitan-style municipal court and also to reduce the number of judges on Youngstown's Municipal Court from three to two, also because of declining population, revenue and caseload. Guidelines call for a judge for every 50,000 people and Youngstown currently has about 67,000 residents. The drive to reduce the court began when Judge Robert Douglas retired this past summer.
There is also opposition there as well. Already, Campbell and Struthers have come out against such a plan for a countywide system, saying they are concerned where a new facility would be built and they would lose revenue generated from their courts.
Also, some city leaders are dead set against reducing the judges in the Youngstown Muni Court. They say the statistics are misleading and that with only two judges, the court could not run some of its programs, such as housing court and veterans court, which, while laudable programs, are not mandated services. They also say the effort needs more study but the Mahoning County Bar Association, the state Supreme Court, and at least two other studies have concluded that the city does not need three judges.
So last week state Reps. Bob Hagan, who has crusaded for the change louder than anyone in Mahoning County, and Ron Gerberry introduced a bill to reduce the judges. They had a hearing earlier this week and another hearing is planned for next week. They hope to have the bill passed and signed by Gov. John Kasich by the end of the year.
Not that I like to laud politicians, but Hagan saw his opportunity and seized it as soon as he could. There is no need for three judges, based on the data used by the state Supreme Court. If the bill can be passed, it would be almost monumental, for while politicians for the most part talk about sharing services and consolidating, they very rarely accomplish that. They say those words because people want to hear them, but reducing the size of government is harder than holding the ocean back with a toothbrush.
But it is nice when someone helps along the process for something that makes sense, which seems to be the case for the Youngstown court situation. Part of me, however, is waiting for the other shoe to drop, or in this case, gavel.
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