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Court bill finds solid support in Ohio House

A bill that would consolidate the judgeships of the Sandusky County courts in Clyde and Woodville was passed Tuesday in the Ohio House of Representatives by a vote of 96-0.

The Sandusky County Commissioners threw their support behind the bill after holding a special meeting Monday to hear comment on HB 433, which is sponsored by Rep. Rex Damschroder (R- Fremont).

The village councils in Woodville and Gibsonburg recently approved resolutions opposing the bill and the Sandusky County Bar Association voted down a motion last June to support it.

It would establish a county municipal court and makes no mention of consolidating the current sites of the courts into one location. But opponents fear that it could pave the way for a merger into the Fremont Municipal Court system.

Gibsonburg Police Chief Michael Benton contended in Monday’s meeting that the commissioners plan to eventually further consolidate the courts and referred to testimony before the House Local Government committee by Warren Brown, county administrator, that a study of such a consolidation could be considered.

If the bill becomes law it would:
• Abolish the Sandusky County courts and replace them with the Sandusky County Municipal Court, effective Jan. 1, 2013.

• Create a full-time municipal judgeship for the new court – with the judge to be elected in 2013 for a six-year term beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

• Require the two part-time judges of the defunct court to serve as part-time judges of the municipal court until Dec. 31, 2013.

An analysis by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission projects the state would save about $9,200 annually on its share of paying for one judge’s salary and benefits compared to two part-time judges and the county would save about $23,316.

Chief Benton said Tuesday the projected savings could be more than offset by the need for the court to hire a magistrate as one full-time judge wouldn’t have the scheduling flexibility of two part-time judges.

Judge John Kolesar, of the Clyde court, offered written testimony to the House committee in favor of the bill and has said he intends to run for the full-time judgeship if the consolidation bill becomes law. He said part-time judges are allowed to have private law practices which can sometimes create awkward ethical issues for themselves as sitting judges.

Judge Herbert Adams presides at the Woodville court and would be barred by age restrictions from running for the judge’s seat.

Chief Benton has written to State Senator Dave Burke (R - Marysville), asking him to oppose the bill to allow local officials more time to study its impact.

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