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May 12, 2005
Chief Justice Moyer Calls for Elimination of Mayor's Courts, Part-Time Judgeships, in Annual OSBA Address

Chief Justice Thomas J. MoyerChief Justice Thomas J. Moyer today called for the elimination of mayor's courts and part-time judges in Ohio.

In his annual address to the members of the Ohio State Bar Association, Chief Justice Moyer urged the General Assembly to change Ohio law to eliminate mayor's courts and part-time judgeships in Ohio and reallocate their cases to municipal and county courts.

Chief Justice Moyer said that mayor's courts are an inherent conflict of interest because the revenue from fines goes into the budget controlled by the same entity adjudicating the fine. 

“ Louisiana and Ohio share a dubious distinction,” Chief Justice Moyer said. “They are the only two states that continue to permit one person to serve as executive and as judge in the same city.”

There are 333 mayor's courts in 68 Ohio counties. About 25 percent of these are in the three largest counties of Franklin, Cuyahoga and Hamilton. Nearly 60 percent of the 325,079 mayor's court cases are handled in these counties.

Mayor's courts handle primarily minor misdemeanors, mostly traffic offenses.

Mayor's courts have been declared unconstitutional by the federal courts, most recently in 1999 by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found there to be an unconstitutional conflict when a mayor can level a fine that will be paid into a budget the mayor controls. Many cities and villages attempted to address this conflict by hiring a lawyer or an outside party to preside over the cases.

“Some argue that the employment of magistrates by mayors is a complete response to the constitutional defect. Can we really be convinced of that?” Chief Justice Moyer said.

Chief Justice Moyer also called for the elimination of part-time judgeships because he said it will “strengthen our efforts to enhance the integrity of the judiciary. For too long, the public has been confused by judges who are also advocates.”

“In nearly half of the counties in Ohio, the system of part-time judging blurs the bright line of impartiality,” Chief Justice Moyer said. “We should not wonder that citizens may doubt the impartiality of a system that permits a lawyer to serve as a judge on Monday and on Tuesday negotiate a settlement for a client with an attorney who appeared before him on Monday.”

The elimination of part-time judges and mayor's courts was recommended by the Ohio Courts Futures Commission.

There are 68 part-time judges in Ohio in 62 jurisdictions.

Each year Chief Justice Moyer addresses the members of the state's largest organization representing attorneys and fills them in on developments in the administration of justice in Ohio.

This year's conference of the OSBA marked the 125th anniversary of the organization.

“For all these many years, the Ohio State Bar has been a critical partner in the administration and promotion of the legal profession,” Moyer said. “Members of the bar have shaped our constitution and our laws…and most every institution has benefited from the advice of an attorney.”

Also in his address on Thursday, Chief Justice Moyer:

The full text of Moyer’s address is available at: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/PIO/Speeches/2005/.

For a high resolution, publication-quality photo of Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, please visit: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/PIO/news/images/justices/moyer_highres.zip.

Contact: Chris Davey at 614.387.9250.