A vote by lawmakers in the Ohio House late Thursday moved Summit County closer to adding a second judge to oversee cases in juvenile court.
An amendment from Rep. Anthony DeVitis, R-Green, to the state budget bill passed with “bipartisan support,” his spokesman said Friday.
The budget bill moves to the state Senate for consideration starting next week.
DeVitis said the Summit County Foster Parent Association approached him with the idea of a second judge for Summit County Juvenile Court.
“As a parent, I understand their concerns and the importance of stability and love in a child’s development,” DeVitis said in the written statement sent to the Beacon Journal. He said he felt cases involving foster families have “become increasingly complex and long in duration” and that the addition of a second juvenile judge in Summit would help move such cases to final adjudication more efficiently.
“The increased time is causing unnecessary stress on the parties involved and results in impacts on attachment, bonding, adjustment and general happiness,” the brief statement from DeVitis concluded.
Craig Swanson, the lawmaker’s aide, said DeVitis would have no further comments.
Swanson said there would not be an appointment of a second judge if the proposal becomes law. The amendment language states that the judge would be seated Jan. 2, 2015, following an election in November 2014.
Rep. Marilyn Slaby, R-Copley Township, who co-sponsored the amendment, said one of the issues is that the Summit County Juvenile Court caseload is often “backed up” in proceedings before the court’s magistrates.
“We are the largest county that has only one juvenile judge. And so this is where we feel we just need that second juvenile judge to get some of this work done better that is getting so backed up,” Slaby said.
Summit County Juvenile Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio, who is in her second term as head of the local juvenile court system, strongly defended her court’s handling of the caseload. She cited data that disputed the lawmakers’ claims.
Citing so-called “case-movement statistics” that the Ohio Supreme Court compiles, Teodosio said Summit compares favorably to similarly populated Montgomery and Lucas counties for the time it takes to close cases.
Using 2011 numbers (the most recent compete year available), Teodosio said that in cases of dependency, neglect or abuse, Montgomery County had 22 cases that exceeded the Supreme Court’s guidelines, Lucas had two and Summit had none.
In delinquency cases, Summit had only one case that went past the limit in 2011, compared to 17 such cases in Lucas County and two in Montgomery.
“So our compliance with state guidelines,” Teodosio said, “is better than that of either Montgomery or Lucas, which each have two judges.”
Summit County’s statistics in other juvenile case categories also were slightly lower than results in the other counties, showing Summit’s expeditious movement through adjudication, Teodosio said.
“If the cold, hard numbers said we weren’t doing our job, then I could understand where [the lawmakers] are coming from,” she said Friday. “But these numbers are from the official report that the Supreme Court has put together, so it doesn’t sound like they’re backing anything up except this is what they want to do, which I think is very irresponsible.”
Teodosio also said adding a second judge could create an additional budget strain on the county’s general fund.
“The thing that is most frustrating to me is that we’ve tried to do a lot of work to lower our dependence on the general fund and seek alternate sources of revenue,” she said.
“I think we’ve done a good job of doing that, and I also think the irresponsible thing to do, probably by taking about $300,000 to $350,000 out of county funds to support a second judge, would be pulling away money from programming that has been pretty effective in working with our kids.”
She said both DeVitis and Slaby have never met with her at her court office on Dan Street to discuss their apparent concerns. Nor have they spoken with other court officials there about caseload progression, she said.
A spokesperson for DeVitis, however, said the lawmaker did meet with the judge, saying his calendar lists two meetings with Teodosio to discuss the issue: May 18 and Aug. 29 last year. Both meetings occurring at local restaurants.
Teodosio has served as the sole presiding juvenile judge in Summit County since her first elective term began Jan. 1, 2003. Eleven magistrates also handle cases.
The court handled more than 8,100 cases in 2011.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or email@example.com.