Trumbull County's state representatives should follow Bob Hagan's example and drive a court consolidation effort.
State Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, is asking for the state auditor's office to study Mahoning County's system of lower courts. Hagan said in a letter to Auditor Dave Yost that he would like the auditor to study potential savings from combining the county's lower courts into one.
Hagan said he is pushing court consolidation because the county's population requires fewer judges and court workers. The Mahoning County Bar Association had a report prepared by the National Center for State Courts that recommended consolidation, which it said would improve service and save money.
The circumstances are similar in Trumbull County.
According to Ohio Supreme Court statistics, every lower court in Trumbull County except Warren is far below the state average in the overall population of its jurisdiction, the number of new cases filed per year and the number of cases per 1,000 residents.
Even Warren, after dividing the population by two municipal court judges, falls below the state averages. And Newton Falls, after subtracting Ohio Turnpike traffic offenses, falls far below state averages for new cases.
Also, there seems to be no logical reason for the existing court system's structure. Girard receives nearly two times as many cases as Niles and almost eight times as many cases as Eastern District. Gustavus residents, who live about 10 miles from Central District Court, are served by Eastern District Court about 21 miles away. North Bloomfield residents, who live about 17 miles from Central District, are served by Newton Falls Municipal about 25 miles away.
But in Trumbull County, State Reps. Tom Letson, D-Warren, and Sean O'Brien, D-Brookfield, blocked the consolidation of just two courts - Central and Eastern districts. The plan was for Central District Judge Thomas Campbell to preside over a combined court after Eastern District Judge Ron Rice vacated the seat at the end of the year.
Not wanting the Republican Campbell to hold the seat through 2017, when his term expires, Letson and O'Brien supported a bill that called for a 2013 election. That stalled the proposed merger long enough to allow for an Eastern District political contest to replace Rice.
So now, Trumbull taxpayers are left with two courts that, even combined, would serve a population of 35,296 residents while the average lower court in Ohio serves 48,751, according to 2010 figures.
Trumbull County residents, and more importantly voters, should insist that political leaders handle the people's money more responsibly. If they can't bring themselves to break the habit of political protectionism and be fiscally responsible, voters should send them a clear message on Election Day.