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Published: Friday, 12/22/2000

The Editors: Local court overhaul needed, officials say

Toledo Municipal Court, though creaking and inefficient, does what it has to do somehow or other, Rabbi Alan Sokobin, chairman of a committee that studied the court, said during a taping of The Editors television program.

The nine-month Center for Effective Government effort analyzed the way the court works or doesn't and recommended improvements.

“Those who are part of the system saw that it was rusty, it was old, it was corroded, and needed fixing,” Rabbi Sokobin, rabbi emeritus of the Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim, said.

The Municipal Court system includes seven judges and the clerk of courts and her office. The greatest deficiency is communication within the system, the study found.

“There is no regular method, no regular process for it,” Rabbi Sokobin said. “And therefore, each part of the system operated almost independently.”

The study committee's vice chairman, former Toledo Mayor Harry Kessler, is a former Toledo municipal clerk of courts. He said he was struck by the increase in case volume and the vastly different technology in the seven years since he left office, as well as a lack of coordination.

He said he wasn't being critical of the current clerk, Margaret Thurber, but he knew all the judges from his time as mayor and, as clerk, was invited to judges' meetings.

“When they wanted something done, we did it. Today we don't have that situation,” Mr. Kessler said.

The CEG study committee's primary antidote is the hiring of a a criminal justice commissioner who would be answerable to a commission of mayoral, judicial, and clerk's office representatives.

“Everything in life is management,” whether running a business or a home, Rabbi Sokobin said. In the court system, “someone has to make a decision and say, `This is the way things shall go.'

“We're not talking about interfering with the essential function of the judges or the clerk of court, but it is a management position ... so that all of the elements of the criminal justice system cooperate and work together,” the rabbi said.

Mr. Kessler said jokingly: “We're going to have to find somebody who can walk on water.”

But persuasive powers will be required of any commissioner “because they're going to have to convince [judges, court workers, and the clerk] that there's a certain way to go - and there is,” he said. “What you've got now is you've got seven judges and one clerk, and you've got eight different ways of doing everything.”

The committee estimated that its recommended changes would cost about $700,000. But Mr. Kessler and Rabbi Sokobin argued that the court would save money through efficiencies and by bringing in fines and court costs not now collected.

“Justice requires efficiency, and that is what the essential thrust of the committee report was,” Rabbi Sokobin said.

Mr. Kessler and Rabbi Sokobin were questioned by Thomas Walton, vice president-editor of The Blade, and Marilou Johanek, a Blade editorial board member.

The Editors will be broadcast at 9 tonight on WGTE-TV, Channel 30, and at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on WBGU-TV, Channel 27.



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