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Published: Friday, 7/13/2012

Sandusky Co. officials try to halt consolidation

Appointing merged court judges disputed

BLADE STAFF

FREMONT -- Four public officials from Sandusky County have gone to court seeking a declaration that a new state law to consolidate the Woodville and Clyde municipal courts is unconstitutional.

In a complaint filed late Tuesday with the Sixth District Court of Appeals, Woodville Police Chief Roy Whitehead, Gibsonburg Mayor Gregory Gerwin, Woodville Mayor Richard Harman, and Gibsonburg Police Chief Michael Benton contend a bill passed by the Ohio General Assembly last month and signed by Gov. John Kasich on June 26 should be thrown out, that county commissioners should be prohibited from using county funds to pay the court personnel's salaries, and that the board of elections be ordered to hold an election in November for county court judge.

The legislation abolished the Sandusky County Court effective Jan. 1, 2013, established the Sandusky County Municipal Court effective Jan. 1, 2013, and extended by one year the terms of the two part-time judges. The bill provided that an election for voters to choose a full-time judge for the combined new municipal court to be held in November, 2013.

Fremont attorney Andrew Mayle, who filed the complaint, said Tuesday that while the General Assembly has the authority to abolish a court and establish a new one, it lacks the power to appoint judges.

"They need to hold an election before the court takes effect," he said. "You can't just throw in a judge. What if they said I'm the judge, you're the judge, Judge Wapner is the judge? We think case law is clear they have no power to appoint judges."

Mr. Mayle said the issue is complicated by the fact that Woodville Judge Herbert Adams is 70 and cannot legally run for re-election because of the state's age limit.

His clients, he wrote in the complaint, "should not be forced to face the enormous potential civil liability that could come with obtaining search and arrest warrants from an un-elected judge, incarcerating defendants on bonds set by an un-elected judge, holding and collecting fines on orders from un-elected judges and so on. If a judge comes to office in this manner, the judge lacks authority to act. If the judge cannot act, there will be chaos within the local police departments and their jurisdictions."

Mr. Mayle has asked the appeals court for an expedited decision in that matter so that potential candidates for the judgeship still would have time to file petitions for the November general election.



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