Municipal court judge highlights past year's work
At the end of March of each year, Ohio’s municipal courts must submit to their city and county governments a report of their operations, including a statement of receipts and expenditures. The full 2022 Annual Report for the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court, along with reports from years past, can be found on the court’s website, www.clevelandheightscourt.com.
Here are highlights of some of the work performed by the court, and the improvements and community collaborations it has undertaken.
We remain one of the busiest municipal courts in Ohio. There has been a 14% decrease in traffic citations, including OVIs, but an increase of approximately 3% in criminal cases filed. On the civil side, we saw a sharp rise in the number of evictions, from a low in 2020 of 429, to 652 in 2022. However, [in cases] where both tenant and landlord appear, approximately 90% of our eviction cases are settled. We also saw a significant rise in rent-deposit actions, from only six in 2017, the year before I took the bench, to 53 in 2022.
While the court is not a revenue center—our mission is to administer justice—we once again remitted to the city of Cleveland Heights revenue above our expenses. Even with increased services provided, and raises for court employees, we reduced our general fund expenses this past year.
Our court continues to make technology improvements, funded through grants or paid from sources outside of the general fund. Collaborating with the Cleveland Heights Police, Law, and Information Technology departments, nearly all traffic tickets are now received electronically. Our website allows for electronic filing, we are almost entirely paperless, and we continue to notify individuals of upcoming court dates with e-mails and text reminders.
In 2022, the court was awarded a grant of over $72,000. The grant includes a kiosk to allow probationers to check in for their appointments. Probationers can be asked to answer questions or give information that is automatically entered into our probation case management system. The kiosk will save not only the probation officer’s time but also the time of a probationer who remains in full compliance with the court’s conditions. The grant will also allow us to create a virtual courtroom that fully integrates remote hearings into our existing case-management software. We will be able to conduct virtually every part of a case that would typically occur in the building. The added functionality will allow the court to conduct virtual hearings more often and for more dockets.
I continue to serve on the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Commission on Technology and the Courts, and several other committees focused on improving the administration of justice and fostering public confidence in the judicial system. I was also elected a trustee of the Association of Municipal/County Judges of Ohio. I remain actively engaged in educational outreach programs, including visiting with our elementary school students and participating in various discussion panels.
None of this is possible without the hard work of the incredibly capable, diverse, and dedicated court staff. We look forward to continuing to serve our vital purpose of administering justice impartially, without denial or delay.
Judge J.J. Costello
J.J. Costello has been the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court judge since 2018. There, he oversees all criminal, civil, eviction, housing, and small claims filings. He is a lifelong Cleveland Heights resident, and he and his wife, Alicia, are proudly raising their two sons in Cleveland Heights.