WADSWORTH — The Municipal Court Jurisdictional Task Force, which is studying the future of courts in Medina and Wadsworth, held its first meeting Thursday with a focus on how Wadsworth might oversee cases from Montville Township.
The Medina court encompasses 16 jurisdictions whereas Wadsworth has 11.
“We’re not trying to steal cases from Medina,” Wadsworth Municipal Judge Stephen B. McIlvaine said at the meeting at Wadsworth City Hall. “Medina’s a lot larger and will always be. We can help out and take some of the smaller townships and, if necessary, we can absorb 1,000 cases easily without adding any personnel.”
Montville Township is one of the jurisdictions under consideration for transfer to the Wadsworth court.
Medina Municipal Court Judge Dale H. Chase, however, said moving that township’s cases to Wadsworth Municipal Court would be a “disservice” to its residents.
“There’s no real unity of the communities between Montville Township and Wadsworth,” Chase said. “I feel it’s unwise to disentangle (Medina and Montville Township). It would provide less service to the people of Montville Township in terms of the police system and utilizing the court system.”
Chase indicated the transfer also would affect Medina city and Medina Township police departments. That’s because police departments in Medina and Montville townships have a mutual aid agreement when covering state Route 18 (which falls in both jurisdictions), and Medina city dispatchers take the emergency calls.
The judge said residents on Lexington Ridge in Montville Township are about four miles from the Medina court compared with being 10 miles away from the Wadsworth court.
“That’s just adding to their inconvenience of being in the court system to start with,” Chase said. “People don’t like being in the court system. To make it more inconvenient for people to utilize the court system, it would be a disservice to them.”
In 2016, records show, there were 1,200 traffic and criminal cases filed in Montville Township. Court officials said they are unable to break down civil cases between jurisdictions.
Medina Clerk of Courts Nancy L. Abbott said if all the cases resulted in guilty verdicts, $3,600 in court fees would be generated.
The caseload surprised McIlvaine.
“I didn’t realize (Montville) is pretty big and that may be too much for us to take on. I don’t know,” McIlvaine said. “That’s something the task force can look at.”
The most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures show Montville Township with a population in July 2016 of 11,646, the largest of the 17 townships in the county. The township tied with Medina Township for the largest growth in the county — 4.1 percent from 2010 to 2016.
Wadsworth Municipal Court Bailiff Sharon Ray suggested the task force look at taking cases originating in Granger, Lafayette, Chatham and Spencer townships.
“We’ll have to expand the people that are at this meeting,” Chase said. “The question is, what caseload benefits do both court systems get from them?”
The task force is made up of 12 officials from the cities of Medina and Wadsworth, plus officials from law enforcement, the courts and the clerk of court’s offices. Their work will include an analysis of each court’s historical caseloads and research on the impact a change in jurisdiction might have on court operations, funding and public services.
Any proposed changes to the courts’ boundaries would require legislative action by the Ohio General Assembly, according to Title 19 of the Ohio Revised Code.
Court officials from both jurisdictions said the number of cases are continuing to rise from year to year.
In 2016, the Wadsworth court handled 6,091 traffic, criminal and civil cases that generated $1.4 million in revenues, according to its annual report.
Clerk Cassandra M. English said she projects about 8,000 cases for 2017.
The Medina court handled 11,277 traffic, criminal and civil cases that generated $4 million in transactions, which included bond and civil judgments, in 2016, according to the court’s annual report.
Abbott said she projects about 13,000 cases for 2017.
Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell said transferring some cases from Medina to Wadsworth would alleviate plans for renovation and expansion of the existing courthouse at 135 N. Elmwood Ave.
A proposed $10 million project would include construction of a parking deck.
Chase, who is retiring at the end of 2017, set aside $4 million over the years from court fees to help fund the project.
“That could be positively affected by not having the caseloads as high as they are currently,” Hanwell said. “The city has an interest in trying to manage that and see the court run as effectively and efficiently as it can.”
The Wadsworth court has 11 full-time employees, including McIlvaine and English.
The Medina court has 25 full-time employees, including Chase and Abbott.
The task force’s next meeting is 10 a.m. Aug. 24 in the administration conference room at Wadsworth City Hall.
“I’m hopeful the task force will come up with some recommendations on what, if any, changes should occur in terms of the jurisdictions of the court and what those impacts may or may not be,” said Wadsworth Director of Public Safety Matt Hiscock. “If there’s an ability to improve efficiencies in the court, in terms of budgeting and workload, without adding expenses, we’d certainly be open to listening to opportunities that might be there.”
Contact reporter Halee Heironimus at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.