By Deborah F. Comery, Clerk of Court
There are 13 municipal courts in Cuyahoga County and we all handle our local traffic violations, criminal misdemeanor complaints (all felonies are handled by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court), civil complaints for amounts up to $15,000, small claims complaints up to $3,000 (where most of the parties in a case do not use an attorney), trusteeships, rent escrows, garnishments and bank attachments.
Rocky River Municipal Court was created by the Ohio State Legislature on June 17, 1957, by passage of House Bill 305. This also eliminated the justice of the peace system for this jurisdiction. The court was officially constituted and began to function on January 1, 1958. The jurisdiction of the court was set within the limits of the municipalities of Bay Village, Fairview Park, Parkview (now Fairview Park), North Olmsted, Rocky River, Riveredge Township (now Fairview Park and Cleveland) and Westlake. The city of Rocky River was chosen as the host city because at the time, Rocky River was the largest of the cities the court was chosen to serve. Since 1958, this court has served all its cities equally while continuing to strive to dispense justice equitably to all.
While a court’s main function is to dispense equal justice to all in a timely manner, we have other goals that we are continually trying to achieve and improve upon. First and foremost is attention to the public … to be as professionally helpful as is allowable by law (as there are legal restrictions as to how helpful we can be). Another is to ensure the safety of all who enter our doors. To that end, we added security staff along with a magnetometer when we opened our new courthouse, complying with Ohio Supreme Court guidelines.
A common misconception is that this court operates on tax dollars. For the last 15 years – since 1997 – the Rocky River Municipal Court has not needed or used one tax dollar to operate. All operating expenses, as well as the money needed to build our current courthouse, have been paid from the court costs collected from those individuals who have been served by this court. It has long been the feeling of the elected officials of this court that the monies collected by each city in the form of local taxes should be kept within that city for the support and operations of that city.
There are only two states in the Union that still allow mayor’s courts – Ohio and Louisiana. Every other state has abolished mayor’s courts, due, in part, to a federal decision (City of Macedonia v. DePiero in the 6th Circuit Court) that found that “a constitutional problem is created in jurisdictions where mayors control budgets and law enforcement, and also serve a judicial function by presiding over a mayor’s court and deciding cases there.”
There are, as Mayor Kennedy pointed out recently, courts across the country called “community courts.” He stated that mayor’s courts are just the same as community courts. That statement is untrue. A mayor’s court is under the complete control of a mayor. A community court is established under the umbrella of a municipal court … allowing the smaller court to remain within the judicial branch of government.
Mayor’s courts were begun years ago in an effort to allow individuals access to a court nearby their homes in rural settings, not compact urban settings. The practice of mayor’s courts in urban settings has migrated to money-making endeavors, with a local example being the city of Linndale. Is it fair to the citizens of North Olmsted to be so grouped?
Mayor Kennedy has set forth an executive order (a precedent-setting maneuver within the Westshore cities) officially establishing the North Olmsted Mayor’s Court without allowing any consideration or discussion in a public forum as would have been done with legislation before the North Olmsted City Council. That order cannot go forward without the North Olmsted City Council’s approval of legislation currently before it to permit funding of Mayor Kennedy’s mayor’s court.
Hopefully this, and the columns to follow, will provide the citizens of North Olmsted and those of the Westshore suburbs with more information with which to consider this all-important issue.
Editor’s note: This is the first of three submissions from the Rocky River Municipal Court system to explain its operations. The next two articles will be “Rocky River Municipal Court – Whose money is it and where does it go?” followed by “Rocky River Municipal Court – Probation … The Complete Story.”