February 10, 2006
Chief Justice Moyer visited Government Agencies committee
~ written by John H. Jones, Government Agencies Committee Chair
Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer of the Ohio Supreme Court was the guest speaker for the Government Agencies committee meeting for February to discuss the future of mayor's courts in Ohio.
In continuing his work to raise the standards and qualifications to be a Judge in Ohio, Chief Justice Moyer discussed the separation of powers and the perception of a conflict of interest surrounding mayor's courts, when a mayor occupies two practically and seriously inconsistent positions: one partisan and the other judicial. Although Ohio is free to authorize mayor's courts in theory, the structure of the courts in practice must be such that the particular combination of executive powers vested in the mayor does not impair his ability to serve also as a neutral arbiter.
In 1999, the sixth circuit held that a defendant was deprived of due process, because there existed in the mayor's situation a "possible temptation" to forget the burden of proof required to convict the defendant. The mayor's interest in and responsibility for the financial condition of the village and the appointment of law enforcement officers could give him a strong official motive to convict and graduate a fine to help the financial needs of the village.
In recognizing these potential problems and the perception problems associated with cases being tried by mayor's court magistrates - who are appointed by the mayors - or by practicing lawyers who serve as part time magistrates, Chief Justice Moyer outlined some potential alternatives to eliminate the perceived conflicts of interest: move cases to municipal court having jurisdiction and eliminate mayor's courts; have one municipal court judge in the jurisdiction ride circuit to preside over all cases in the several mayor's courts; and have the presiding judge of either the municipal or common pleas court having jurisdiction appoint magistrates for mayor's courts.
Chief Justice Moyer said that the legislature is considering whether to offer all or just one of these alternatives in new legislation to revise the current structure. In presenting these alternatives, Chief Justice Moyer is sensitive to the convenience of the officers in terms of additional travel and court time and the costs of hiring additional judges to handle an increased case load.