A back-to-school refresher on the municipal court
Based upon the most recent reporting year for the Ohio Courts Statistical Report, there were 17,549 new filings, transfers and reactivations in the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court. In comparison, the municipal court in Shaker (which includes Beachwood, Hunting Valley, Pepper Pike, Shaker Heights and University Heights) had 14,320, Euclid had 10,430, South Euclid had 6,100, and East Cleveland had 5,081.
As our kids get ready to head back to school, maybe it is time for a refresher on our third branch of government, the judicial branch. For many, what goes on in our courts, and especially our local, municipal court, is unclear. At their core, our courts uphold the rule of law, resolving disputes and testing and interpreting our laws in a fair and rational matter.
In Ohio, our state courts are divided into three levels: the trial courts, the appellate courts, and the Supreme Court of Ohio. The trial courts consist of municipal (or, in some areas, county) courts and common pleas courts. The common pleas court itself may include separate divisions for matters such as juvenile, domestic relations, and probate. The appellate courts then hear appeals, both criminal and civil, from the trial courts. Finally, the Supreme Court of Ohio is our state’s highest appellate court and it primarily decides all state constitutional questions and those cases involving questions of public or general interest.
Here in Cleveland Heights, our own municipal court has jurisdiction within the corporate limits of Cleveland Heights. It is a court of limited jurisdiction, which means that it can only hear civil cases in which the amount of money in controversy is less than $15,000. In criminal cases, our court can hear only misdemeanor housing, traffic, and criminal cases. Except for the initial appearance, where an accused is informed of his or her constitutional rights and bail is set, and preliminary hearings, where there is a determination of whether probable cause exists, Cleveland Heights Municipal Court does not hear felonies, the more serious crimes. Our court also does not hear cases involving juveniles who are charged with acts that would be crimes if committed by an adult. Nor does our court hear divorce cases or cases dealing with the administration of estates.
All judges in Ohio, including our municipal court judges, are elected to six-year terms. A judge must be an attorney with at least six years of experience in the practice of law, and our municipal court judge must be a resident of Cleveland Heights. Although some municipal courts have more than one judge, here in Cleveland Heights we are a single-judge court.
For Cleveland Heights, that means that that single judge and staff deal with those 17,549 new filings, which amounts to 380 filings per 1,000 population. [Comprising] some of those filings in Cleveland Heights were 10,164 traffic filings, 1,855 misdemeanor filings, 546 eviction filings—rounded out by a few marriages performed for some lucky couples.
James Costello is a local attorney, acting judge, and candidate for Cleveland Heights Municipal Court Judge (www.costello4judge.com).