July 28, 2014

Medina
Mostly cloudy
64°F

Panel to study future of muni court

MEDINA — A committee is studying the possibility of expanding Medina Municipal Court by adding to the current building at 135 N. Elmwood Ave. or relocating to another site.

Committee members are City Council President Cynthia Fuller, At-large Councilman John Coyne, Mayor Jane Leaver, Planning Director Greg Hannan, Law Director Greg Huber and Municipal Court Judge Dale Chase. The committee meets for the first time Sept. 30.
“I think this is progress toward rationally evaluating the needs the court has,” Chase said Friday.

Last year, the court processed 18,012 cases, including 166 felonies, 596 DUIs, 10,958 traffic-related and 1,941 miscellaneous, Clerk of Courts Nancy Abbott said. The court also handles civil cases and in 2008 dealt with 35 for personal injury, 1,717 for contracts, 542 evictions, 363 small claims and 1,694 miscellaneous.

Cases are handled by Chase, one full-time magistrate and two part-time magistrates.

“In many courts our size, there are two judges,” Abbott said. “The current building was built in the 1970s, designed for the ’70s, and I don’t think anyone then could possibly have known how the growth in the area would explode.”

Chase said with the exception of the Berea Municipal Court system, all other jurisdictions in Ohio with a population comparable to that served by Medina Municipal Court have two judges. He said this could be looked at as a preface to adding a second judge to the mix down the road.

A court must submit statistical data to the Ohio Supreme Court to support its request for an additional judge.

“After review, if it meets the criteria, the request is submitted to the Legislature to create a second judge’s position for election,” Chase said. “We serve two-thirds of Medina County, about 122,000 people.”

Abbott said the court struggles to compensate for and comply with court building requirements handed down by the Ohio Supreme Court that occurred after the facility was complete. One example is that Abbott must keep case files longer, and space is at such a premium that she pays to store records at another facility. Funds for renting the storage space come from the city’s general fund through Abbott’s budget.

Storing the files as opposed to scanning them into a more compact format eliminates the need to hire more staff for that purpose, she said.

Possible sites for a new building will be evaluated on an individual basis to determine cost and suitability for the project. The city would be responsible for purchasing property for the expansion, if the committee recommends relocating the court.

Chase said he would contribute about 40 to 50 percent of the money from his special projects fund for the whole project. Once a new building is complete and money no longer needed to be set aside for that, he said he would be able to use those funds toward increased operating costs and the cost of a second judge.

The search for a new municipal court home, or at least an updated one, has been ongoing for several years. One of the most recent proposals was in April 2008, when developer Mike Rose and real estate agent Jim Gerspacher suggested purchasing Medina United Methodist Church property at 260 S. Court St. as part of a new municipal court project that would anchor a 70,000-square-foot mixed-use development and include a parking deck. At that time, a combined county and municipal court facility also was under consideration.

Several years ago, structural engineers conducted a study of the current building to determine if a second story could be added, something that probably would be revisited.

Chase said if studies show a new facility is warranted, the city would inherit the existing court building, plus the 70 parking spaces that go with it.

“So there are some unspoken benefits (for the city) if the project moves off-site,” Chase said. “One of the main concerns of the committee is to explore where it’s appropriate to expand. In the current spot, we can’t just go up, we’d also have to build out and add parking spaces, and I don’t think we could do that without taking people’s houses. When we looked at this six or seven years ago, it looked like it would involve five or more houses on Friendship and Elmwood. I think most people would be hesitant to do that. I know it’s not something I would support.”

Contact Judy A. Totts at (330) 721-4063 or jtotts@ohio.net.