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New judge coming to Maumee Municipal Court

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    Judge Gary Byers in the Maumee Municipal Court in February.

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    Hazard

For the first time in more than 20 years, there will be someone new sitting in the judge's seat at Maumee Municipal Court.

City Councilman Dan Hazard defeated longtime judge Gary Byers Tuesday, receiving nearly 54 percent of the vote. The race centered on the court's rising deficit over the years, which grew to $890,000 in 2016.

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Judge Gary Byers in the Maumee Municipal Court in February.

The Blade
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Mr. Hazard, a lawyer for 16 years, attributed his victory to a grassroots campaign.

"I went back and looked at my calendar and how many days I walked," Mr. Hazard said. "I figured that I knocked on close to 2,500 doors. In addition to that, my family knocked on about 10,000 doors. We went right to the people with our message."

He added many people outside Maumee who he spoke with while going door-to-door were surprised to learn they vote for Maumee judge. Voters in Monclova, Waterville, and the section of Swanton in Lucas County fall under the court's jurisdiction.

Mr. Hazard said his camp had the expectation his message of fiscal responsibility was getting through to the voters, and he felt good about his chances.

Other questions about court finances surfaced in the run-up to the election. Last month, Jane Monroe, 55, a longtime deputy clerk at the court was indicted by a grand jury on charges alleging she stole some $30,000 from the court. She has pleaded not guilty in the case, according to court records.

More recently, Judge Byers and the court insisted on using a private firm to conduct an audit, which Mayor Richard Carr opposed. City council  has hired the Auditor of State's Fraud Division to perform a separate audit. The court’s audit is expected to cost nearly five times more than the city's separate audit.

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Hazard

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Court officials, who placed Ms. Monroe on leave in late September, previously said the alleged theft came as a shock. They also said they elected to use the more expensive Maumee-based accounting firm Gilmore Jasion Mahler for their audit because the firm is local and has a sterling reputation for doing good work. 

This was the first contested judge's race in 18 years. While on council, Mr. Hazard has been the head of the finance committee and municipal court committee. He said his decision to run came down to a lack of cooperation from the court.

"We tried over and over again to try to rein in the costs and ended up getting sued," Mr. Hazard said. "I'm just looking forward to implementing an administration that cooperates with the city and the other municipalities."

Among the changes Mr. Hazard is looking to implement are conducing a performance audit and automating certain procedures.He also wants to look at staffing levels.

Judge Byers was elected for the first time in 1994. He said he reached out to Mr. Hazard to offer his congratulations, and assistance with the transition.

The outgoing judge has his own take on the court's finances.

"The bottom line is the system that was developed in the 1960s to fund municipal courts across the state just doesn't make a lot of sense anymore," Judge Byers said. "By the next census, more people will be in Monclova Township than the city of Maumee, yet they contribute nothing to the running of the court."

Judge Byers hasn't had much time to reflect on his tenure, but said he's proud of the court he created. He believes any lawyer in the area could speak to its reputation.

"You actually affect people's lives on a daily basis," Judge Byers said. "I've enjoyed serving this community. Some days, you're frustrated. Some of the best liars in the world are heroin addicts. They'll tell you exactly what they think you want to hear. You still have to do what's right to help them through an addiction.

"There are very few bad people you see in court; I could probably count them on one hand over the last two and a half decades. Most of it is just people who make bad decisions."

Judge Byers said he hasn't decided what's next for him, but he would like to continue to serve the community.

Mr. Hazard hasn't decided when he'll vacate his council seat. City Council will vote to appoint a replacement, however if the six others can't agree, Mayor Carr would make the appointment.

Contact Jay Skebba at jskebba@theblade.com, 419-376-9414, or on Twitter @JaySkebbaBlade.

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