WARREN - With proposals to merge county courts in Cortland and Brookfield in limbo in Columbus, and the lease for the court in Brookfield expiring soon, commissioners are exploring the option of putting both courts in one location.
They're hoping to avoid signing a new long-term lease for the court location in Brookfield and then having legislation move on combining the courts and eliminating one judge, which would leave the county with two buildings.
But Ohio law doesn't allow commissioners to determine where county court judges hold court, so they need to involve Central District Judge Tom Campbell, who pushed the idea of consolidating the courts, and get his thoughts on the matter.
Campbell's involvement is needed to change locations because in counties with more than one county court judge, law allows the presiding judge - in this case, Campbell, because Eastern District Court Judge Ron Rice is leaving the bench - to designate the location for each judge to hold court.
The idea is to put both courts in one building, which would save the county rent for the location in Brookfield, county Commissioner Frank Fuda said. The lease expires at the end of the year. Trumbull County owns the building in Cortland that houses Central District Court.
Now Trumbull County pays about $3,950 a month to lease the space, but there's been a proposed rent increase to $4,052 a month over a new five-year agreement, putting rent in the neighborhood of $240,000.
Fuda said rent savings was one of the points Campbell used to urge the combination and this idea, ''gives him another chance to save Trumbull County money if he wants to.''
The proposal to merge the two courts has gotten sticky, becoming a campaign issue for some candidates this election and a sore point for commissioners and Campbell.
''He (Campbell) had the opportunity to combine the courts in 2013, but he chose not to because he didn't want to run in 2013,'' Fuda said.
A Democrat-sponsored bill in the Ohio House to combine the courts called for a new judicial election to happen next year. Another bill, this one sponsored by a Republican state representative, is really the same, but called for an election in 2017.
Campbell said Fuda's assertion isn't correct.
The Republican-sponsored bill, approved by the Supreme Court, died, Campbell said.
''I didn't have a single vote, I'm not in the general assembly,'' Campbell said.
Commissioners today are expected to authorize a letter to Campbell for his input. Campbell declined to comment on the matter of putting the courts under one roof, saying it would be premature not having seen the letter from commissioners.