The Akron-based 9th District Court of Appeals is one of the busiest in Ohio, consistently ranking among the top two districts across the state in new cases per judge each year.
Each year, the court handles between 800 and 1,000 appeals in civil, criminal and domestic cases from Summit, Medina, Wayne and Lorain counties.
Yet many people are unfamiliar with what the court does or even where it’s located. In fact, they might not realize the court recently moved from its long-time home in the Ocasek building to a new spot in downtown Akron.
“Nobody knows about us,” Judge Tom Teodosio, one of five judges on the 9th-district bench, said in a recent interview.
To help people become more familiar with the court, an open house and dedication will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the new location in Main Place, 121 S. Main St.
The event will include remarks from Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Summit County native who held many positions but never served on the appellate court.
The 9th district had been in the state-owned Ocasek building since 1985, but maintenance issues with this building prompted the search for a potential new location starting in 2016. The issues included a leaky roof that required buckets to be placed in most offices in the court — and even the courtroom — and heating and ventilation problems that necessitated temporary air conditioner units in the hallways.
“There were all kinds of issues,” said Jason Dodson, chief of staff for Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro. “The judges weren’t happy. We weren’t happy.”
County and court officials began looking at other nearby buildings in downtown Akron and put out a request for proposals. They ultimately decided on Main Place, which had an empty floor with offices that would suit the court well. The location also was still close to other government buildings and connected to them through skyways.
The county negotiated a 20-year lease for the majority of the second floor of Main Place, where the trust office for First National Bank and the White Hat Management offices had formerly been located.
Renovations to turn the space into a court began in March, with the move beginning in mid-September.
The cost for the move and build out came to about $34,000, an expense that will be shared by Summit and the other counties in the district.
Most of the furniture in the old courthouse was reused, and the county bought all of the furniture from the previous Main Place tenant for $100. Summit County maintenance workers handled the moving and arranging of the furniture.
The main expense was for technology and security upgrades, including a microphone system in the courtroom with an assisted-listening component that will aid those who are hearing impaired.
“We managed to pull it off as cost effectively as possible,” Dodson said.
A former conference room was transformed into a courtroom. The only challenge: the new podium was built six inches taller than the architect intended, so the judges had trouble seeing the attorneys appearing before them. This issue was addressed by installing a platform behind the bench to raise it to the proper level. The platform was carpeted, making it appear as if it were designed that way.
“It was a goof up, but it was an easy fix,” said Michael Walsh, the court administrator.
The new courtroom is slightly larger than the old one, though many attorneys have remarked that it appears smaller because of the higher ceiling in the old courtroom.
“On the plus side, no leaks,” said Walsh, who stood in the middle of the courtroom to show where the leaks were in the previous courtroom.
The judges are pleased with their new home.
“I really like it,” said Julie Schafer, the court’s presiding judge. “It really suits everybody’s needs.”
Schafer noted that the wallpaper in the previous building had a white substance that, when people brushed against it, would rub off on their robes or dark clothes. The new space has freshly painted walls and new wallpaper.
The judges said the new location also has more space for the judicial attorneys — who shared office space before — and enough room for the court’s mediation program. The previous spot had no offices for this purpose, with mediation handled through phone calls or computer chats.
The new location has three mediation rooms, which will each be named for the counties outside of Summit in the district. The counties will provide artwork that will be featured in the room that bears their name.
The judges hope people who want to learn more about the court will stop by the open house or take advantage of one of the programs the court offers, such as visits to area high schools in which students can watch live court sessions and ask questions afterward. Judge Jennifer Hensal said the students have great questions for both the judges and the attorneys.
“It helps them to understand what we do,” she said of the students. “If you’re not a lawyer, you don’t know what court of appeals judges do.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, email@example.com and on Twitter:@swarsmithabj.