The most significant changes this year among the area's courts, at least visibly, will be the construction of the new 6th District Court of Appeals building and the Lucas County Juvenile Justice Center.
Groundbreaking for the appeals court building is scheduled for the spring or summer, while the Juvenile Justice Center is slated for completion in January.
6th DISTRICT COURT OF APPEALS
The appeals court building is scheduled to be completed within 18 months to two years after the groundbreaking, Judge Peter Handwork said.
It will be built at Spielbusch Avenue and Cherry Street, with its primary entrance facing the Civic Center Mall.
The new building will replace the court's offices in the former sheriff's residence next to the county jail. The judges and their staff have outgrown their quarters, Judge Handwork said.
The cost of the building is expected to be about $6.5 million. Each of the counties in the district - Lucas, Erie, Fulton, Huron, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Wood - will pay a share.
The initial design called for an L-shaped, three-story, granite-and-stucco building. The use of stucco has met some resistance, so other exteriors, such as brick and limestone, are being considered.
Judge Handwork said the building's design allows for the court to handle one or two more judges in the future if needed. It also provides more room for the court's mediation program.
Five judges sit on the appeals court, with three-judge panels ruling on individual cases. The appeals court handles criminal and civil cases brought by parties who are unhappy with the decisions rendered in the area's common pleas courts.
The court had 788 cases filed for its consideration in 1999. The judges heard arguments on 510 cases and decided 544 cases.
FAMILY COURT CENTER
The juvenile division is moving closer this year to leaving the Family Court Center, which also houses the domestic relations division.
The Juvenile Justice Center, which will be located on Spielbusch across from U.S. District Court and the Lucas County jail, will contain 125 beds in its detention area, courtrooms, and court offices. The project's cost is about $24 million.
Before moving into its new quarters, the juvenile division will launch a Family Drug Court this year that is designed to help parents kick drug habits so families can stay together.
In the domestic relations division, 2,280 divorce cases were filed in 1999, compared with 2,306 in 1998. The number of divorces granted last year was 2,334, a drop from 2,535 in 1998.
LUCAS COUNTY COMMON PLEAS COURT
A mediation program to resolve civil cases filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court will get into full swing this year.
The program was launched in November with an $89,000 grant from the Ohio Supreme Court.
Jean Atkin, court administrator, said the Supreme Court's emphasis for mediation programs is designed to lessen the caseload for judges and help people reach more mutually satisfying resolutions.
"This process gets people together at an early time, " Ms. Atkin said.
She said the court's plan is to have the mediator screen 300 cases for the program this year.
Lightening the caseloads for the court's 10 judges is an omnipresent goal. In 1999, 5,133 civil cases were filed. In 1998, 4,823 cases were filed with the clerk.
The number of criminal cases filed fell in 1999 to 2,183 from 2,609 in 1998.
TOLEDO MUNICIPAL COURT
Joining the ranks of the Toledo Municipal Court's judges this year is C. Allen McConnell, who was elected housing court judge in November.
Judge McConnell, who had been an at-large Democratic Toledo councilman, replaces Judge Roger Weiher, who is retiring.
In an attempt to help Judge McConnell and his colleagues on the bench handle the always heavy caseload, Maggie Thurber, clerk of the Toledo Municipal Court, has added a new computer system.
The first phase of the system, which was implemented at the beginning of the year, is designed to speed up case-flow management and will replace handwritten journal books, said Allen Roy, Ms. Thurber's executive assistant.
Ms. Thurber said that her staff has been working on the computer system for two years.
The court had fewer criminal and traffic cases to handle last year, dropping from 109,279 in 1998 to 102,177 in 1999.
The clerk's office will spend part of this year trying to return $25,000 to people who posted bonds, but never picked up their cash after the resolution of their case.
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
Criminal filings fell in U.S. District Court from a record high of 146 in 1998 to 109 in 1999.
David Bauer, head of the local U.S. attorney's office, said filings are cyclical and he doesn't attach special significance to the drop in cases.
The court's civil filings didn't see a significant change, rising from 783 cases in 1998 to 795 in 1999.
U.S. BANKRUPTCY COURT
The pace of cases filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Toledo slowed from a record year in 1998.
In 1999, for the 21 counties covered by the local court, 5,365 cases were filed, down from 5,713 in 1998.
The 1999 total is still the third highest on record at the court.