Despite repeated attempts to change or abolish them, mayor’s courts in Ohio continue to survive, relics of a bygone age of local justice. Critics accurately point to speed traps, mismanagement of funds, lack of oversight and the conflict of interest when cities and villages set up courts that generate money for local government coffers.
In response to these well-founded criticisms, advanced by, among others, the late Thomas J. Moyer during his time as chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, proponents insist the courts are a convenience to local residents, an efficient alternative to municipal courts. They argue, too, that the high level of traffic enforcement long associated with mayor’s court is really the result of efforts to deter crime.
The rapid rise of the mayor’s court in Cuyahoga Falls clearly illustrates the leading motivation — money, in the case of the Falls, lots of it. Money is the reason mayor’s court have been able to fend off efforts to fix or end them. Many lawmakers don’t want to risk the wrath of mayors who would take a financial hit if their courts were eliminated. In some small towns, income from a mayor’s court is more than all tax revenues combined.
The Falls is the largest community in Ohio with a mayor’s court. In just three years, from 2009 to 2011, the Cuyahoga Falls Mayor’s Court has become the third busiest in the state. Last year, it handled more than 7,600 traffic and misdemeanor cases, a 75 percent increase from its first year of operation, despite a decline in caseloads across the state.
Formed in reaction to the local municipal court moving to Stow, just minutes away, the Falls mayor’s court grossed $750,000 last year, according to Mayor Don Robart. When the Falls hosted the municipal court, it cost the city $250,000 a year, he noted. Now, expenses are minimal.
While that may be good for the Falls, it has damaged the finances of the Stow Municipal Court. While mayor’s courts are optional, adding an unnecessary layer to the judicial system, municipal courts are a requirement. They must be available should defendants prefer a trial.
Viewed that way, mayor’s courts are inefficient, draining resources from municipal courts across the state. In modern times, having such justice available at the strictly local level is folly, a throwback to horse and buggy days, and an unwelcome one to out-of-town motorists. Law enforcement, too, must enter the modern age, using up-to-date tools rather than relying on traffic stops.