Nineteen years after Delaware County went from one common pleas court judge to two, the time is at hand when a third judge is needed.
In 1995, the county added a second judge. At that time, the county’s most recent census total showed a population of about 71,752. The 2010 census topped 170,000 and still the county has two judges.
In 2012, the county commissioners passed a non-biding resolution of support for a third judge.
Court officials at the time cited a rapidly growing population, a county-wide drug epidemic and the lingering effects of the housing crisis for increasing pressure on the county’s court system.
From 2006 to 2010, Common Pleas Court new case filings increased by 28 percent. New case filings jumped 11.2 percent in the Juvenile Division over the same period of time.
The increase in caseloads has resulted in more behind the scenes work for the county’s common pleas and juvenile-probate judges, including administrative duties, preparing for cases and writing decisions, Judge Everett Krueger told the commissioners.
Krueger attributed much of the increase in caseloads to the widespread drug use in the county and the poor economy.
“As far as what’s driving the numbers, on the criminal side I think it’s the opiates,” he told the commissioners. “On the civil side it’s foreclosures.”
The judges’ proposal was also supported by Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien, Delaware County Juvenile Court Magistrate Dave Hejmanowski and Delaware County Clerk of Courts Jan Antonopolous.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Antonopolous said.
The proposal was submitted to the Ohio Supreme Court, which was to make a recommendation on the matter to the Ohio Legislature.
Two years have passed and the court has announced no decision.
The two chambers of the Ohio Legislature would then need to approve the changes.
Given the delay, it is impossible for a new judge to take the bench before 2016.
One element in this equation is space. If a new judge is added, a place to house his or her court will be needed.
Several years ago, the county purchased the former Elks building on North Sandusky Street as a potential court building site.
The city now wants the historic building preserved, and the county has said one other option would be to construct the court building outside the city.
Historic buildings have merit, to be sure, but the city would err if it failed to make some accommodation to keep the new court building in town.
Expenses are involved in all of this. The county would have to pay part of the new judge’s salary; the state pays a portion. At one time the court building had an estimated price tag of over $50 million. The plans have been modified and the cost now could be less than $30 million.
The addition of a new judge has to happen eventually and the step is long overdue.
At such time the opportunity presents itself, the county must be in a position to take that opportunity.