Wide-ranging judicial-reform ideas outlined

Court commission's report by Catherine Candisky, Dispatch Statehouse Reporter

Drive-through windows to pay fines, simpler proceedings and fewer delays, more training for judges, and allowing jurors to take notes and ask questions are just a few of the ideas being kicked around about how to improve and modernize Ohio courts.

The Ohio Courts Futures Commission issued a preliminary report in January but hopes to get more ideas from the public before submitting its final report later this year to Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer of the Ohio Supreme Court.

The 52-member commission will host its first of 10 public hearings Wednesday in Columbus in the lobby hearing room of the the Rhodes Tower, 30 E. Broad St.

Interested citizens will be given five minutes to address commission members on a first-come basis starting at 6:15 p.m.

Earlier, the public also is invited to a 90-minute round-table discussion where 10 community leaders will focus on one of the commission's ideas -- encouraging live media coverage of important trials and proceedings.

Moyer said televised proceedings could help improve the public's understanding of the judiciary.

Moyer appointed the commission of 27 nonlawyers and 25 lawyers, including 10 judges, in 1997 and asked the panel to come up with recommendations for how to modernize Ohio's judicial system over the next 25 years.

In its preliminary report, the commission suggested numerous ways to improve public access and understanding of courts, boost judges qualifications and training and reducing long trials and proceedings.

"The commission has put more than 100 ideas out on the table for public discussion. They go all over the board and are not always consistent. It's not the final report, but more to get the public talking,'' said Laralyn M. Sasaki, project director for the commission.

For example, judicial candidates would have to meet certain experience criteria to run for office and if elected, would have to undergo additional training.

To make it easier for people to represent themselves in legal proceedings, the commission has suggested preparing and providing instructional materials to litigants without counsel.

Some of the more controversial proposals included eliminating mayor's courts; consolidating courts in smaller rural counties; and allowing voters to throw incumbent judges out of office even when they run unopposed. Unopposed judges seeking re-election would have to win 50 percent of the vote or be removed from office and replaced by the governor's appointee.

"We are interested in what the public thinks about some of our concepts, and hopefully we'll get some ideas to incorporate into our report,'' said Judge John P. Bessey of Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

Bessey, who sat on the commission's technology task force, said he is particularly interested in citizens' concerns about access to the courts.

The technology task force recommended a statewide computer network providing electronic access to courts from the home, office and certain public sites along with interactive consumer kiosks in courthouses.

"There has been a prevailing interest to make the courts more accessible and less intimidating,'' Bessey said.

Moyer agreed.

"A very strong message to us is that many, many citizens do not understand how courts function and what they should expect from the courts,'' Moyer said, adding, "We have a very major challenge on our hands to educate, starting with schoolchildren, about what the courts should be doing.''

The preliminary report is posted on the group's Internet page at and copies are available at many libraries.

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