MUNROE FALLS — The city’s leader said while he thinks an ACLU report calling for reforms in Ohio mayor’s courts raises some good points, he feels those issues do not apply to the city’s mayor court.
The ACLU of Ohio released a report in April that levies two main criticisms against mayor’s courts: a profit-making incentive and a lack of transparency and oversight.
The report, which analyzed data from 2016 and 2017, issued five recommendations: restore state funding to municipalities; eliminate mayor’s courts in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, and Summit counties; increase education and procedural requirements for mayor’s courts; expand oversight of mayor’s courts; and abolish driver’s license suspensions for any reason not related to public safety.
"I appreciate the report because it does raise concerns that people need to be aware of," said Munroe Falls Mayor James Armstrong.
However, Armstrong also said he felt these concerns "really weren’t applicable to [the] Munroe Falls [Court]," and noted the city’s mayor’s court "does things that tries to essentially provide [a] service to people."
Armstrong praised the work being done by Munroe Falls Mayor’s Court Magistrate George Pappas and prosecutor Tom DiCaudo.
Armstrong noted that DiCaudo has implemented a procedure to help drivers whose licenses were suspended "get reinstated and [have their offense] reduced from driving under suspension to maybe driving without a license."
Armstrong said he agreed with the report’s recommendations on restoring state funding to municipalities and expanding oversight of mayor’s courts.
"As a government entity, it should have oversight," said Armstrong.
The mayor said while he understands the ACLU’s recommendation to increase education and procedural requirements for mayor’s courts, he noted that the proposal "doesn’t really apply" to Munroe Falls because Pappas and DiCaudo both possess a large amount of legal experience.
Armstrong noted that people who go to Munroe Falls Mayor’s Court "are actually paying less for court costs and fines than they would [if they went to Stow Municipal Court]." He said that having the court start at 4 p.m. each Thursday "gives people the ability to … show up after work or not have to miss that much work if they have to appear."
Armstrong said he does not entirely agree with the recommendation to abolish driver’s license suspensions for any reason not related to public safety.
"I take driving under suspension a little more seriously," said Armstrong. "If you’re driving under suspension, it makes it harder for you to get insurance and that’s wonderful in a vacuum, but if the person who’s under suspension hits your daughter, you’re not going to be terribly thrilled about the fact [that] they were driving under suspension …typically they’re driving under suspension because they did something wrong and they didn’t follow the procedure to get it straightened out."
The mayor noted he supports abolishing driver’s license suspensions for situations "that [have] nothing to do with driving." As an example, he added sometimes people have their licenses suspended if they do not pay their child support.
Armstrong noted the report talked about the Ohio General Assembly’s passage of House Bill 336, which gives people with a suspended license an amnesty period to reinstate their licenses with either no fee or much lower fees. He added the city’s mayor’s court was "already kind of doing that" by giving drivers with suspended licenses a chance to pay their reinstatement fees.
No changes planned for Munroe Falls Mayor’s Court
Council in January discussed the future of the Munroe Falls Mayor’s Court after Stow Municipal Court Judge Kim Hoover delivered a presentation in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the municipal court moving from Cuyahoga Falls to Stow.
City Council President Jenny Markovich noted that council in May had a follow-up discussion and said members felt, "everything’s working very well with the mayor’s court and they don’t want to make a change at this point in time."
A review of the data found that during the past three years, seven percent of the people who used the mayor’s court are Munroe Falls residents, according to Markovich.
"When I brought that information to [council], that satisfied [them]," said Markovich. "We had a brief discussion on it and they decided [that] at this time, they did not want to pursue any further information."
About the mayor’s court
The Munroe Fall Mayor’s Court hosted its first session in May 2009, and adjudicates traffic offenses and minor misdemeanors. Court is in session every Thursday at 4 p.m. on the second level of city hall, 43 Munroe Falls Ave. The mayor’s court handled 511 cases in 2017 and 436 cases in 2016, according to mayor’s court information posted on the Ohio Supreme Court web site.
In 2018, the mayor’s court had $83,353 in revenues and $37,865 in expenses, yielding a net income of $45,488, according to a report provided by Finance Director Karen Reynolds.
Editor’s note: Kevin Stankiewicz of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.