Peninsula -- The mayor's court in one northern Summit County municipality is closing its doors.

The Village of Peninsula, which has had a mayor's court for about 40 years, is in the process of shutting its local court down, according to Mayor Douglas Mayer.

"We are in the process right now of eliminating it," Mayer said March 6.

The decision to close the court was made for financial reasons, Mayer said.

"Our mayor's court has not been very productive and there have been some months where it has not made a profit at all," Mayer said.

The court cost the village $50,000 in 2012 to operate, Mayer said. The village only made $4,000 in profit, collecting $54,000 from fines, according to Mayer.

"We were generating payroll, that's all we were doing," Mayer said. "And our community is in a situation where every penny means something."

However, in 2012, the village would have received about $20,000 in fines if misdemeanor and traffic violators were sent to Stow Municipal Court, instead of the village court, Mayer said.

Municipal court judge: Mayor's courts 'destroy checks and balances'

A letter from Stow Municipal Court Judge Kim Hoover, brought the mayor's court financial issues to the village, Mayer said.

Hoover said he is "philosophically opposed to mayor's courts because they are not consistent with our democracy's basic component of three separate but equal branches." The executive branch, which includes the mayor, controls the police department, according to Hoover.

"When the mayor establishes a mayor's court, they then control the judicial branch as well since they sit as judge or appoint the magistrate who serves at the mayor's pleasure," Hoover said. "Why should the judicial branch be controlled by the executive? It destroys the checks and balances that our forefathers so brilliantly crafted."

According to Hoover, mayors who run the courts "feel the need to meet the financial obligations of their towns and rightfully so."

However, "they should not be using a court to provide revenue as their first mission when the court must be first concerned with doing justice," Hoover said.

Hoover has "advocated the abolishment of mayor's courts" for his entire 18-year judicial career, he said. Hoover added that he was "pleased" when Hudson and Reminderville shut down their mayor's court within the last 10 years.

"The only justification for such courts besides revenue production is convenience to traffic violators who are issued citations," Hoover said. Hoover contends municipal courts are "better able to provide real justice," he said.

Mayer agreed that the police department and court system should not be "money makers" he said.

When Mayer first met with Hoover to discuss the financial implications of the court, he decided it would continue, he said.

"That's before I had all the numbers," Mayer added.

After reviewing the books and another meeting with Hoover, Mayer decided to close the court.

As part of the process, and to keep the village from laying off the village clerk of courts, Hoover agreed "absorb" the clerk into the Stow court, Mayer said.

As part of village preparations to close the court, officers began issuing citations March 1 for violators to appear in Stow Municipal Court, Mayer said.

"Today [March 6] was our last court date," Mayer said.

However, there are still about 10 years of cases that must be gone through, Mayer said. The village needs to determine if fines from those cases can be collected, or if the violators are dead.

"Those cases have to be cleared," Mayer said.

Mayer described the decision to close the court as "tough."

"There are no books on how to close a court, but all kinds of books on opening a court," Mayer said. "We are fortunate we have good enough people here to get it done -- it's just not going to be quick."

Mayer is not sure when the final case will be cleared, but believes the process will stretch into April.

Unlike Peninsula, the Village of Boston Heights has no plans to close its mayor's court, Mayor Bill Goncy said March 6.

The court, which has been around for about 40 years handled more than 2,400 cases in 2012 and the village received more than $420,000 in revenue, according to Goncy.

Email: ttroglen@recordpub.com

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