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Ohio Considers Banning Local Courts Run by Mayors
The Ohio House of Representatives considers legislation that would take away the power of small town mayors to decide guilt in traffic cases.

Justice Thomas J. Moyer
The Ohio House Judiciary Committee this week continued consideration of legislation that would outlaw the practice of allowing small town mayors to preside over traffic ticket cases. State Representative Larry Wolpert (R-Hilliard) introduced a sweeping measure that would, among other changes, fold small town cases into the jurisdiction of local municipal courts. The lawmaker found some high-powered support for his bill.

"I commend Representative Wolpert for sponsoring House Bill 154," Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer testified on May 31. "Every citizen of Ohio should know that the only interest of the person adjudicating legal rights and responsibilities in a court is the fair resolution of the case."

Justice Moyer pointed out that the Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled in 1999 that there was an unconstitutional conflict of interest for a mayor to levy a fine paid into a budget that the mayor himself controls. In 2005, an Ohio Supreme Court report found 84 percent of mayor's court cases were traffic tickets, and in 86 percent of those cases the mayor found the defendant guilty. Others testifying this week argued the system itself represents a denial of due process.

"Mayors, and their designees, often do not have sufficient legal experience to properly adjudicate cases," National Motorists Association representative Carl T. Boeckman testified on Wednesday. "All judges and magistrates should have adequate legal training and the time and ability to keep current on changing legal matters."

Boeckman also recommended that anyone charged in a community court should be given an automatic right of appeal to a court of record for a new trial. He argued that the system encourages speed traps. Statewide, Ohio courts hear 22.7 cases for every 100 population. That figure often skyrockets in towns with mayor's courts. The Village of Arlington Heights hears 419.6 cases for every 100 population.

Louisiana is the only other state that uses mayor's courts. The full text of HB 154 is available in a 314k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File House Bill 154 (Ohio House of Representatives, 6/7/2007)

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