The Ohio Supreme Court said Thursday that the Sandusky County Municipal Court created by the state legislature this year is unconstitutional and ordered that elections for county court judges in Woodville and Clyde be held on Nov. 6.
“They agreed with us 100 percent,” said Fremont attorney Andrew Mayle, who filed the original complaint with the 6th District Court of Appeals on behalf of local officials and residents opposed to merging the two courts. “They said the legislature can go back and do it right, which they can, but my guess is they won’t do that because the majority of people who live in this jurisdiction don’t want a new court. They’re happy with what they have.”
The legislation merged the county courts in Woodville and Clyde into one municipal court and retained the two current judges, whose terms expire at the end of the year, on the bench for a year until an election can be held in November, 2013.
The appeals court ruled Sept. 27 that a special election should be held before the end of the year to elect a judge for the new combined court to a one-year term.
The Supreme Court disagreed in its unanimous decision, finding that the legislature is not empowered to appoint judges.
Because it declared the legislature’s action unconstitutional, it said an election must be held Nov. 6 for the two part-time judgeships for the existing county courts in Woodville and Clyde.
Early voting began Oct. 2, and the names of the candidates for the county courts do not appear on the ballot.
Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler, who represented Sandusky County commissioners and the board of elections, said election officials will have to confer with the Secretary of State’s Office to figure out how to proceed.
“The Supreme Court is the Supreme Court,” he said. “They’re the final word, and that’s the way it is.”
According to figures provided by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, as of Oct. 12, some 1,255 absentee ballots had been cast in Sandusky County. Nineteen military and overseas absentee ballots had been cast, and 668 early, in-person voters had cast ballots at the board of elections.
“It’s still quite a mess, and I’m not quite sure how they think this can be done,” Mr. Leffler said.
Only the current county court judge in Clyde, John Kolesar, filed for that position. Two candidates, Beth Tischler and Mary Beth Fiser, submitted petitions to run for the judgeship in Woodville. The two women were among those who contested the merger.
“We’ve told the Sandusky County Board of Elections to put our clients’ names on the ballot, and if we lose, then whatever votes they get won’t be counted, but if we win, count the votes,” Mr. Mayle said. “That would save the county a lot of money. They refused.”
He said his clients are happy with the court’s ruling. “We think because of this decision thousands of people are now going to be able to vote for their judge,” Mr. Mayle said. “It benefits thousands of people, and whoever gets the most votes will win."
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