Commissioners support court consolidation

Trumbull County commissioners Wednesday made a verbal resolution in support of the consolidation of the Trumbull County Central District and Eastern District courts.

Consolidation is a “no brainer” Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said. “But we have to do it in a wise, considerate way.”

Cantalamessa said he is in favor of consolidation on the condition the Central District Court is used for the combined court instead of building a new structure.

The commissioners said they expect to pass a resolution in writing at their next meeting on Dec. 13.

“I’m glad the commissioners have finally agreed to move this forward. I certainly hope their resolution calls upon our local legislative delegation to introduce a bill and actually shepherd it through the legislative process,” said Central District Court Judge Thomas A. Campbell.

Campbell asked commissioners to look into consolidation as a money saving measure because Eastern District Court Judge Robert Platt is retiring at the end of 2018.

Combining personnel and eliminating the need to pay for utilities at two locations, and rent for Brookfield’s Eastern District Court, would save the county about $200,000 per year, Campbell said. The county owns the Central District Court building.

The Ohio House and Ohio Senate have to approve the measure with a two-thirds vote in order for the consolidation to happen.

This isn’t the first time Campbell has pushed for consolidation.

In 2011, when it became apparent a vacancy would arise in the Eastern District Court, he brought it up and in 2012 and 2013, Fuda and Polivka voted in favor of the resolution, Campbell said. The measure passed the Ohio Senate, but failed to gain enough support in the Ohio House. Campbell said it is important to move quickly this time around before candidates start filing for the race, or the Ohio Supreme Court will be less likely to support the idea.

In a November meeting between Campbell, the commissioners and three state lawmakers, Campbell fielded questions about where the court would be held. Sensing the idea wasn’t getting support, Campbell left the meeting, saying he felt the idea was being dismissed because of party politics.

Though judges do not run in general elections connected to a political party, they run in partisan primary elections. Campbell is a Republican. The three county commissioners are Democrats, and Commissioner Dan Polivka is the chair of the Trumbull County Democratic Party.

Commissioner Frank Fuda said he and others at the meeting were just concerned the county might be on the hook for an expensive new building.

The three commissioners Wednesday again said their line of questioning should not have been interpreted as a political jab, and that they were simply gathering information.

Campbell said he appreciates the resolution, but the issue of the building is far down the road.

“I’m not sure why the commissioners felt the need to include language regarding what court facilities the consolidated court would use, or where,” Campbell said. “If, and when that occurs, no matter what options we elect to take for the consolidated court, it will certainly be less expensive than providing for two courts, as we are doing now.”

Polivka said the county has made some improvements at the Central District Court and can make more to support a larger operation.