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Seven Ohio mayor’s courts eliminated

There were 318 mayor’s courts in Ohio in 2011, and 76 percent of them were in villages with fewer than 5,000 residents. Supporters, many with ties to small communities, say mayor’s courts are convenient, easy to navigate and inexpensive. )AP photo)

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 22, 2013

One of the last acts of the recent Ohio legislative session was a slight restructuring of the mayor’s court system in the state, eliminating all mayor’s courts in municipalities with a population of less than 200 people.

This had the effect of eliminating seven of these courts, although the measure was really aimed at only one—the notorious Linndale.

The late former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Moyer would probably say, “It’s a start!”

Moyer had pointed out on several occasions that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there is an unconstitutional conflict of interest for a mayor to levy a fine paid into a budget that the mayor himself controls. He was also on the record numerous times for the elimination of these courts altogether, and had a hand in the 2004 institution of an annual reporting system of mayor’s courts to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Current Justice Paul Pfeiffer has also been quoted on the topic that, “In some places in this state, they’re run as an ATM machine for a village that probably shouldn’t even be in existence as a municipal entity. The fact they exist is a bad reflection on the whole judicial system.”

Ohio and Louisiana are the only two states in the country that still have mayor’s courts. Ohio’s 318 mayor’s courts processed almost 300,000 cases in 2011, and brought in millions in revenue. Mayor’s courts can only hear uncontested traffic and misdemeanor cases. Any contested case will go to the next higher level of judicial jurisdiction.

Any municipality in the state can set up a mayor’s court, a fact that was highlighted when Cuyahoga Falls started one after the municipal court that was located there moved to its new building in Stow in 2009.

In a similar regard, those next-level courts would also receive the income from any tickets written within those eliminated jurisdictions.

After years of trying to eliminate, or modify, or make accountable these courts, it was tiny Linndale that finally got enough attention to make the legislature act.

Linndale, a near western suburb of Cleveland, has one exit and a quarter-mile stretch of I-71 inside its municipal borders.

Linndale police handed out about 4,000 traffic tickets in 2011, accounting for over $400,000 in revenue, a number that is eight times as many tickets per 100 population that any other jurisdiction in the state. That income figure is six times what Linndale brings in in taxes.

So late in the lame duck 2012 Ohio legislative session, Sen. Tom Patton from Strongsville, added a rider to an unrelated judicial bill eliminating mayor’s courts in municipalities with populations under 200. It passed both the House and the Senate by large majorities. The previous lower population limit was 100. There was once a bill that was considered by the legislature to raise the threshold population to 1,000, a number that would eliminate a third of these courts. That legislation did not pass.

As of this writing, the bill awaits the governor’s signature. It will remain to be seen if the new law is challenged by those municipalities. Legislation eliminating some mayor’s courts was passed and signed into law in 1994, but was overturned by the Ohio Supreme Court on Home Rule grounds.

The new law would eliminate the following mayor’s courts in Ohio (2010 Census figures):

Alexandria (Licking County, population 85)

Amesville (Athens, 184)

Brice (Franklin, 70)

Linndale (Cuyahoga, 117)

Mifflin (Ashland, 144)

Summitsville (Columbiana, 108)

West Milgrove (Wood, 78)

The remaining town that has a population under 200, Put-In-Bay, was exempted from the new legislation and will keep its mayor’s court because it is an island.

Locally, Summit County retains its eight mayor’s courts in Boston Heights, Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn, Macedonia, Northfield, Norton, Peninsula and Richfield. Portage County still has its lone mayor’s court in Mogadore. And Mahoning County keeps its courts in Canfield, Lowellville, New Middletown and Poland.

The new law does not eliminate a mayor’s court in the state’s southern speed trap “ATM,” the village of Hanging Rock. This Lawrence County town situated along the Ohio River has a population of just over 200 and issued over 2,000 citations in 2011.