A state House bill that would close nearly a third of Ohio’s 318 mayor’s courts, including Berkey’s in Lucas County, would help modernize Ohio’s court system and scrap some of the state’s most egregious speed traps.
Ohio and Louisiana are the only states that still operate these small-town courts, where mayors or magistrates in towns without municipal courts hear violations of local ordinances and state traffic laws. Traffic tickets make up more than 80 percent of the cases.
The House bill would increase, from 100 to more than 1,000, the minimum population required for a municipality to hold a mayor’s court. That would eliminate unnecessary layers of government and many of the worst abusers of using speed traps as municipal cash cows.
The Blade reported recently that Hanging Rock along U.S. 52, population 221, showed more than $400,000 in court revenue in 2009 — 95 times the amount it collected in local taxes. Another alleged abuser, Linndale, a town of 179 that includes a quarter-mile stretch of I-71, just south of Cleveland, handled more than 4,000 citations in 2011.
Previous attempts to modify or eliminate mayor’s courts have failed, as small-town officials who know a good thing when they see it have rallied to support them. To be sure, so-called home rule and local autonomy are important parts of Ohio’s political culture, but that’s no reason to support unnecessary micro-courts that are prone to politics and abuse.
The argument that small-town mayor’s courts make the judicial system run more efficiently by handling minor offenses is nonsense. In truth, these horse-and-buggy courts create superfluous cases that extend far beyond the dictates and parameters of public safety and reasonable law enforcement.
Other supporters cite the convenience of local mayor’s courts. Tell that to the driver with a court date for traveling three miles an hour over the speed limit. Such courts also raise constitutional conflict-of-interest issues, when the same person responsible for a community’s budget wields the judicial power to produce revenue.
The need to raise revenue should not drive law enforcement. In the interest of fairness and efficiency, it’s time for lawmakers to retire mayor’s courts in Ohio’s smallest communities.