Ohio mayor’s courts are handling fewer traffic and misdemeanor cases.
The overall caseload fell 3 percent last year, hitting a record low of 287,694, according to a report from the Ohio Supreme Court.
The state started tracking cases in 2004, and they are down 11 percent since then. The number of courts also is falling, from 333 that first year to 318 last year.
The Supreme Court declined to speculate on the reasons behind the decline statewide.
As always, caseloads varied by community. Some went up; some went down.
The busiest courts were Reading, in suburban Cincinnati, and Willoughby Hills, in suburban Cleveland. Both handled more than 8,100 cases last year.
Cuyahoga Falls was third with more than 7,000.
Hanging Rock, along the Ohio River in southern Ohio, led the state with an increase of 1,224 cases. The village, which has a population of only 221, handled 2,660 cases.
Lockland, a community of 3,449 in Hamilton County, had the biggest decline of 1,501, but still handled 6,669 cases.
Macedonia led the Akron-area with an increase of 624 cases, a jump of 35 percent. Overall, the city handled 2,408 cases. The community gets plenty of traffic with state Route 8, Interstate 480 and Interstate 271 running through it.
North Canton also saw its caseload rise substantially, climbing 44 percent to 1,153 cases. City Administrator Mike Grimes, a former police chief, attributed the increase to the community upgrading its court software, which allowed it to track pending cases more effectively, and cracking down on tax violators, whose cases now flow through mayor’s court.
“We’ve been real aggressive in [going after] failing to file and failing to pay taxes violations,” Grimes said.
The caseload probably will rise again this year, he said, because the city is focusing more on nuisance violations.
Big decline in Norton
Norton saw the fifth-biggest decline in the state, with cases falling by 939, or 51 percent.
Police Chief Thad Hete said traffic enforcement didn’t change. Police are still aggressive with patrols, he said, and it might be that motorists are paying more attention.
Traffic crashes have declined in the city from 490 in 2008 to 294 last year. The city is on pace for 250 crashes this year.
The number of drunken-driving and drugged-driving arrests also has declined from 269 in 2010 to 144 last year.
“Ultimately, the goal of traffic enforcement is to reduce traffic crashes, and we’re certainly showing that,” Hete said.
Falls down, still busy
Cuyahoga Falls, the largest city in Ohio with a mayor’s court, saw its caseload slide by 7 percent to 7,080. Even with the decline, only two courts in Ohio were busier.
Police Chief Thomas Pozza has been a vocal proponent of traffic enforcement and doesn’t worry about the community regaining the nickname “Ticket City.” Since he became chief a few years ago, police are much more visible on the streets, including state Route 8.
He laughed when asked if cases fell last year because he’s going soft.
Pozza said he’s pleased that cases are down because that indicates more people are paying attention to traffic laws.
Earlier this year, he created STOP — Special Traffic Operation Program. It pays officers overtime and requires them to write at least three tickets an hour. Crashes are down 8 percent since the program began in May, he said.
State law allows communities to form a mayor’s court to hear violations of local ordinances and state traffic laws. The vast majority of the courts are in communities of fewer than 5,000 people.
Critics long have targeted mayor’s courts as “kangaroo courts” that encourage police to write tickets to boost revenue for their community. Proponents, though, say the courts are less expensive to operate and more convenient for violators than going to a municipal court.
A state law took effect this year requiring communities to have a population of at least 201 to operate a mayor’s court. (Put-in-Bay received an exemption.) That closed nine courts, including the notorious speed trap of Linndale in suburban Cleveland. Last year, Linndale, which has only 179 residents, handled 4,677 cases.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.