Look through a $62 billion spending plan for state government, and you will likely find a surprise or two or more. That surely has been the case since the Ohio House hustled last week to complete its budget proposal. One Republican lawmaker called for banning the teaching of “gateway sexual activity.” Soon, he withdrew the idea, amid confusion and concerns expressed by colleagues, educators and others.
Another surprise? Two Republicans, state Reps. Anthony DeVitis of Green and Marilyn Slaby of Copley Township, dropped into the budget plan a provision allowing for a second juvenile judge in Summit County. In a statement, DeVitis explained that the Summit County Foster Parent Association approached about adding a judge. He cited court cases that have become “increasingly complex and long in duration. … causing unnecessary stress on the parties involved,” affecting “attachment, bonding, adjustment and general happiness.”
All of that may be true. The trouble is, the addition of a judge requires careful examination, involving more than an unexpected addition to the state budget. This maneuver has the appearance of slipping something past those who might object.
One well-worn path to an additional judgeship involves asking the Ohio Supreme Court to make an assessment, looking at caseloads and other factors. That isn’t the case in this instance.
Russ Pry, the county executive, says that he wasn’t consulted — no small matter considering that the addition of a judge would cost a projected $316,000 a year in staff support. Almost any added sum is difficult for local governments today, especially as Republicans in charge of the legislature have slashed state money flowing to cities, counties, townships and other entities.
The question of adding a second juvenile judge has surfaced in the past, mostly Democrats or Republicans seeking to gain a partisan advantage when it suited their side. It has been seven years since the last go-around. In that time, the strong record of Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio has become more evident, as organized, innovative, thoughtful and effective, recognized across the state as running a model juvenile court in many ways.
In the past, Teodosio has explained that the county doesn’t need another judge. The challenge for those seeking to make an addition still is: Why fix what isn’t broken?
Consider the 2011 numbers, the most recent issued by the Supreme Court. Teodosio carried a caseload of 8,111, or roughly the same as each of the two juvenile judges in Montgomery County. The caseload in Lucas, another comparable county, was 6,416 per judge. The highest caseload was 14,718 per judge in Hamilton County. Thus, the Teodosio court hardly rates as an outlier.
Neither has justice been delayed, at least in comparison to Lucas and Montgomery and according to the guidelines of the Supreme Court. Summit actually performed much better — with the fewest pending cases of courts in its size range.
What all of this signals is that those looking to add a second judge have much to overcome, that such a decision must be weighed after a full assessment of the record. They must do better than deliver a surprise, leaving the impression that a complete look is the last thing they want, dropping an unexamined amendment into the mammoth state budget. Now the state Senate must do the right thing by removing the provision.