A state lawmaker, who had co-sponsored an amendment to add a second judge to Summit County Juvenile Court, said Tuesday that he has asked Ohio House leadership to pull his proposal from the state budget bill currently under debate in Columbus.
Rep. Anthony DeVitis, R-Green, said he will continue to study the issue and could make a new request later that better meets his goal: helping his Summit County constituents.
“It is my hope that removing this provision from the operating budget will allow the legislature the time it needs to fully investigate the needs of Summit County’s children and families and make the decision that is in their best interests,” he said in a prepared statement.
DeVitis sent the statement to Bob Peterson, chairman of the General Government Finance Subcommittee.
In a separate letter to the Beacon Journal, DeVitis said he is “deeply passionate” about the families involved in the county’s juvenile court system and will continue to gather more information on the issue.
On April 19, the proposal passed the Ohio House, but quickly faced strong opposition from Summit County Council, County Executive Russ Pry, the Akron Bar Association and other entities.
In an April 29 council meeting, Pry urged council members not to support the amendment.
Pry said statistics do not show a need for a second juvenile judge and that the move would create an additional financial burden on the county. He estimated it would have cost about $300,000 to $400,000 a year, including additional salaries for a bailiff, prosecutor, court reporter and judicial assistant.
Others questioned whether the state budget process was the best means for discussing the issue.
In May 2 testimony before the senate subcommittee chaired by Peterson, Summit Juvenile Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio said the court is more efficient with one judge and nearly a dozen magistrates than other courts handling comparable caseloads elsewhere in the state.
Teodosio has cited Ohio Supreme Court statistics on the timely movement of cases to final adjudication in support of her position.
DeVitis said the major factor in deciding to drop the proposal was the expression of “concerns from so many.”
“I thought it was the right thing to do,” he said in a telephone interview from Columbus Tuesday afternoon. “If I do further pursue an additional judge, or maybe somebody else would, I guess doing it in a way that might be more acceptable would be received much better. To have more support is better than having less support.”
The idea of a second juvenile judge arose about a year ago, DeVitis said, when he heard concerns from the Summit County Foster Parent Association that such cases had become increasingly complex and slow in moving to resolution.
“We’re going to try to proceed in a way that’s going to work and have the best results for these families, whether they have a broken family or a foster situation. Ultimately, our goal is to have the best court in the state of Ohio when it comes to these cases,” DeVitis said.
Teodosio issued a statement responding to DeVitis’ decision to drop the proposal.
Since taking the bench in 2003, she said, Summit County Juvenile Court “has strived to be the best juvenile court” in Ohio.
“The national and statewide recognition the court has received during that time has demonstrated that we are meeting that goal,” she said.
In 2007, Ohio became one of four states selected to launch the Models of Change Program coordinated by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice and funded by a $100,000 charitable grant.
In its application for the grant, the state was required to pick a county to implement the program and chose Summit County’s juvenile court for its progressive rehabilitative programming.
A court spokesman said Teodosio had no further comment on the decision to drop the proposal.