May 11, 2006
Common Pleas judges speak at Columbus Bar
~ written by Sandra R. McIntosh
Judges Holbrook, Peterson, Frye and Sheeran met with the Common Pleas Court committee of the Columbus Bar to discuss some of the challenges currently facing the court and the ways that attorneys can help the court work towards solutions.
The main concern advanced by the members of the bench was that there is simply too much work for too few people at the court. In March 2006, each judge was assigned an astounding 185 new cases. To add a little perspective to that figure, Judge Frye pointed out that Franklin County consistently has the largest docket in Ohio, even larger than Cuyahoga County. However, Cuyahoga County has almost twice as many judges to deal with the volume of cases and, in addition, has ten magistrates to assist the judges.
Throughout the course of the discussion, committee members offered a range of suggestions to alleviate the burden, mentioning rule changes allowing magistrates to make final rulings on a broader spectrum of issues, increasing the jurisdictional dollar limit of the municipal court and making simple crack/cocaine offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies so that the municipal court could address them. Unfortunately, further discussions among the group illustrated the complexity of issues involved in instituting solutions.
Most agreed that funding additional judges would be the most appropriate solution for the overburdened Common Pleas Court, unless or until other systemic changes can be implemented. When asked about plans for the much anticipated new courthouse and the space concerns associated with additional judges, the judges remarked that they had not yet seen any building plans. Interestingly, one committee member noted that plans for a new baseball stadium were already under way. The judges said attorneys could be instrumental in helping to shift the priorities of City Council in the upcoming months.
Attorneys can also ease the burden on the court by entering into stipulations whenever possible. Judge Frye told of a recent case on his docket in which the attorneys basically stipulated to every fact in the case, making his job of interpreting and applying the law to those facts much easier. Attorneys were also encouraged to work out discovery disputes without involving the court unless absolutely necessary.
Although is was clear the court struggles with increasing workload, attorneys can take comfort in the fact that the court is analyzing the issue and attempting to arrive at creative solutions to continue the level of service the community currently enjoys in the future. The Common Pleas Court committee thanks Judges Holbrook, Peterson, Frye and Sheeran for taking the time to share their thoughts and concerns with us.