Mayor's Court One Option if Courthouse Leaves Kent
City officials are discussing the idea should the county build the new courthouse outside Kent
Starting a mayor's court for traffic citations and other minor offenses is one option for Kent if the new courthouse is built outside city limits.
And it's an option that could prove costly to the county.
City officials started bouncing the idea around in the past two weeks following a proposal from Portage County Commissioner Tommie Jo Marsilio to change state law, which requires the county's second courthouse be located in Kent.
If Kent started a mayor's court, that would mean thousands of dollars in court costs typically paid each year to the county would stay in Kent.
“The city would have to run the numbers to see if they would be adequate for covering the costs of those cases,” Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala said.
Mayor's courts, like the one in Cuyahoga Falls, typically handle less-serious criminal offenses such as traffic violations — excluding drunk-driving cases — and other minor crimes.
In Portage County, court costs for each case are split between the county and state. For each case, $59.50 in court costs go to the county for five different accounts, which include clerk fees and the special projects fund created to build the new courthouse.
In 2010, the Kent Police Department recorded 3,034 traffic cases, excluding the 213 drunk-driving cases, according to the department's annual report. At $59.50 per case, that amounts to potentially $180,523 in court costs generated for the county last year.
If Kent started a mayor's court to handle such traffic cases, then "that’s money the county’s going to lose," Fiala said.
In 2010, a total $258,000 in state and local court costs were paid due to violations of Kent criminal and traffic codes in the Kent court, according to the clerk of court's office. Another $143,000 in court costs were paid last year in the Kent court for Kent police charges on state law violations.
Even more court costs, $305,000 total, were generated by Kent police cases for city code violations in 2010 including civil and all other cases. Costs generated and costs paid vary for the year because some cases from late in the year do not pay out until the following year.
Portage County Municipal Court Judge Kevin Poland, who sits on the Kent bench, said starting a mayor's court in Kent would put the county in a similar situation encountered by Summit County when officials there moved one branch of the county court out of Cuyahoga Falls and into Stow.
Officials in Cuyahoga Falls and Munroe Falls soon after the move opened their own mayor's courts — keeping some revenue generated through court costs from supporting the costly new operation in Stow. Such a move in Kent would hurt Portage County's court operations financially, Poland said.
“And that’s the risk that you run," he said. "When you start having decisions made out of spite between political entities, it’s a recipe for financial disaster. And it would be a duplication of services.”
The mayor's court could create a potential burden for the city in terms of staffing. Last year, Kent police were responsible for 1,084 total cases in the Portage County courts, according to the clerk's office. That's more than any other law enforcement agency in Portage County.
The mayor's court would mean the need to hire a magistrate, at least one clerk and possibly a bailiff if an on-duty police officer couldn't be used, Fiala said.
And under a mayor's court, the city would still pay court costs to the state.
Fiala said he has no preference either way on the creation of a mayor's court in Kent, but he sees it as one option if the new courthouse is not built in Kent.
"I would like the court system to stay in Kent as is, but if it doesn’t, then we’ll go with the alternative," he said. " Obviously that’s one of the alternatives that could happen if they move the courthouse out of Kent."