Munroe Falls -- Although Mayor James Armstrong says he does not approve of mayor's court, he is not only retaining the city's court but said changes are being made to improve its operation.
"So those of you who thought I was going to get rid of the mayor's court right away, I'm actually literally trying to see if we can get it working and see if we can make it more efficient," Armstrong, who took office at the beginning of the year, told City Council Sept. 20.
Mayor's courts, which hear certain misdemeanor cases involving adults only, are under the city's administration. Traditionally, mayors themselves have presided over them, although it is more common now for municipalities to hire paid magistrates, as Munroe Falls does.
The city's court started in early 2009 under former Mayor Frank Larson. It hears principally such cases as traffic violations, driving under suspensions, disorderly conduct, dog at large, and minor drug offenses, such as marijuana possession. Other cases, including felonies and violent offenses, such as assault, go to Stow Municipal Court.
The city's mayor's court meets in City Council chambers on Thursdays. Armstrong said that starting Oct. 6, sessions will start later than the previous 2 p.m. start time.
"It's going to go from 4 [p.m.] to whenever it's done, probably 4 to 6. We're hoping to better accommodate people who work," said Armstrong. "We had people literally having to leave work to come to mayor's court and that's something that troubled me."
Mayor's Court Clerk Jamie Tortorici told the Stow Sentry Sept. 28 that on average, the court handles about 25 cases each week, but believes it will drop to about 15 cases.
"That's going to change because we're going to do a payment plan," she said.
Tortorici said that up until now, if someone did not pay their fines and court costs, they were ordered back into court.
"It's taking up more time and they keep having to come back," she said.
Now if an individual does not pay, instead of returning to court, their driver's license will be suspended.
"That's the deal they're going to sign," said Tortorici. "That's a common practice among courts."
She said this includes Boston Heights Mayor's Court, where Munroe Falls Prosecutor Tom Dicaudo also works as a prosecutor.
Armstrong has said that Dicaudo's hiring last April is part of an effort to bring in new people who have experience with other mayor's courts and can come in with some ideas. This also includes Armstrong's hiring in mid-September of attorney George Pappas as the court's new primary magistrate. Pappas is currently prosecutor with the Fairlawn Mayor's Court and has been magistrate for that court.
"I'm very pleased. I was glad when he was interested in it," Armstrong told Council. "It's hard to find people with the necessary qualifications [to be a magistrate] because they have to go to a class."
Armstrong told the Stow Sentry Sept. 27 that Magistrate Scott Mullaney has agreed to stay on as a backup magistrate.
"He was the only person we had there and that can cause problems if there's a sickness," said Armstrong, adding that the hiring of Pappas is simply his desire to have people in place he knows.
"I'm gradually making changes where I think we can maybe do things a little differently," he said. "I kind of wanted my team in place and that was kind of the last piece in there. I mean, if there's mayor's court and my name's on it and it's attributed to me, I was much more comfortable with someone I've known for many years doing it. I know Scott, but not really, really well."
Armstrong said one other thing he would like to do, if the money becomes available, is to upgrade the court's aging software.
"One of the things I think is causing efficiency problems is the software," he said.
Armstrong said his issues with mayor's courts is that they put the city's executive and judicial branches together.
"I'm a believer in separation of powers and I think mayor's courts have a tendency to be almost a relic from a bygone era when it was difficult getting to the courthouse," he said. "But the mayor's court seems to be very popular with Council and I don't think it's right for me just because of a philosophical difference I have to just say we're going to do away with it. I would rather see if it would actually work well and be an asset to our community."
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