Summit County officials spoke out Monday night against adding a second juvenile court judge.
County Executive Russ Pry urged County Council members not to support an amendment to the state budget to add another judge to the county.
Pry said he believes statistics don’t show a need for one and the move would create an additional financial burden on the county. He estimated the proposal would cost about $300,000 to $400,000 a year, which would include additional salaries for a bailiff, prosecutor, court reporter and judicial assistant.
Pry attacked the way the late amendment was added — without any discussion with the county or any input from the Ohio Supreme Court. A study, he said, would normally be done by the court to determine whether there is a need.
“We have operated on a streamline budget and all the officeholders do a good job of staying within their budget,” Pry said. “Judge [Linda] Teodosio has been an example in terms of being able to get reclaimed money back from Ohio. She has among the lowest number of youth offenders in the custody of the Division of Youth Services.”
He said Gov. John Kasich has challenged local government to change the way of doing things to save tax dollars, and Judge Teodosio has been a leader in doing just that.
“She has been very creative and proactive in her approach to being a judge on the bench,” he said. “Now I see people in the legislature who think we should just throw money at an issue where there isn’t even a problem in Summit County.”
He said his understanding is that the governor received one letter asking for a second judge and at the eleventh hour the amendment was added.
The letter was written by a foster parent who spoke highly of Judge Linda Teodosio, Pry said, but feels the process for permanent custody could move more quickly.
Julie Schafer, an attorney and member of the Copley-Fairlawn school board, spoke on behalf of the foster parents.
Schafer told County Council members that she has had 12 to 15 foster children and has adopted two of them.
She said it can take four to five months to set up a court hearing.
The time delay, Schafer said, can complicate placements as relatives pop up and also make claims on a child. The end result, she said, is that these children are left in a bureaucratic limbo.
Judge Teodosio also spoke to defend her policies.
“Like anything else if you take the position of one group without taking consideration of other groups you are going to get one side of the issue,” she said. “For every foster parent that would like to see a case progress more quickly ... there are parents and parent advocacy groups that are asking to please stretch out the time because it’s not enough time for them to do what they need to do to regain custody.”
The judge also pointed out that some people have the perception that the parents struggling to regain custody of their children are terrible people, but that’s not always the case.
She said some people make poor choices and do bad things, but the reason they lose their child could be the loss of a job or a home
“In my world, I’m a little bit more concerned with getting it right than getting it passed,” the judge said. “When we are dealing with the lives of young children, I think it’s important that we consider every opportunity and put the best interest of that child before that of foster parents and birth parents and other parties of the court.”
She said she decides on every permanent custody case, not the magistrates, and does not make any decision without getting input from foster parents.
The judge did present recent numbers provided by the Supreme Court.
“Our numbers are exactly where they should be,” she said. “Not only are we managing our caseload well but in a timely fashion, which is recognized by the data not from my case management files, but from those provided by the Supreme Court.”
She said the trend across the state is a decline in juvenile cases. In Summit County there were 11,000 cases in 2003 compared to 6,000 last year.
She also compared Summit County cases to Lucas County and Montgomery County, which have two judges. Those counties are similar in size, but their caseloads are higher. For example in 2012, Montgomery County had 8,946 case, Lucas County had 9,092 and Summit County had 6,396.
Statistics also show that most cases in Summit County were tried by the judge and not by magistrates. In the other two counties, a majority of the cases were handled by magistrates.
“By the end of the year, we have done our homework,” Teodosio said. “We have cleared our cases. We have made a real effort because I recognize that justice denied is justice delayed so we try to very effectively and efficiently close our cases in a thoughtful way, not rushing them through but taking the time necessary.”
Council voted to oppose the creation of the second judge 9 to 2, with the Republicans voting to support the measure.
Democrats on the council said they will lobby against the measure. Teodosio said she will testify before the Senate and try to meet with Kasich.
State Reps. Marilyn Slaby and Anthony DeVitis were invited to County Council to discuss the matter, but did not attend.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.