I write in response to State Rep. Sean O'Brien's letter Sunday concerning the apparent death of the effort to consolidate the Trumbull County Central and Eastern District Courts. As the current president of the Trumbull County Bar Association, I was asked by Judge Thomas Campbell late last year to poll our membership for response to the concept of combining the two courts. While the response to the poll was not overwhelming, the support for the concept from those who cared to respond was nearly 5 to 1.
I immediately sent the results of the poll to every official that I assumed would be involved in this process. I heard back from the county commissioners and Sen. Cafaro's office. I wanted to do my job only as Bar president and leave the heavy lifting, and the politics, to our elected leaders. I know there were public hearings on the subject, and that opposition to the plan was minimal, but I did not attend myself, nor have I otherwise involved myself in the process.
I agree with Chief Justice O'Connor that it is time for the antiquated concept of part-time judges to end, not only in Trumbull County, but across the state of Ohio. Although growing up in Hartford and having previously practiced in both courts as an attorney gives me some insight about budgets and mileage and the like, I support the consolidation of these courts for what I consider to be a more important reason. I believe that we have reached a point in our culture where judges need to be judges and lawyers need to be lawyers.
I do not believe that it is fair to require our attorneys to litigate and compete for business against a select few who they also have to see as judges on their other cases. I also do not believe it is realistic to expect that litigants will appreciate or should accept that they are getting equal treatment even though their opponent is represented by someone everyone refers to as "Judge." The court system, which is created by lawmakers elected by the people, should be above even the appearance of impropriety. Our lawmakers should do everything they can to make sure that the public can be confident in the impartiality and independence of its judiciary. Having part time judges does not promote this necessary independence.
I certainly agree with Rep. Letson and Rep. O'Brien that the voters should decide the future of these courts. But unfortunately, the needed changes must come from Columbus, where our elected representatives should work through the process to effect this necessary change. The question should not be "if," it should be "when," and "how."
The current situation is unacceptable and it has everyone in a proverbial lurch. The deadline for candidates to file for election to the Eastern District Court is fast approaching. My understanding is that the General Assembly does not return to session for months now. I believe that those interested in serving the people of the Eastern District as judge, and especially the citizens, should all know what the plan is going forward. Everyone should know before another part-time judge is elected in the Eastern District for the next six years.
Jason C. Earnhart
Trumbull County Bar