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Officials make case to eliminate EL court

LISBON — Three of the people interested in closing East Liverpool Municipal Court testified before the Civil Justice Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives in Columbus on Tuesday.

State Rep. Tim Ginter, East Liverpool Mayor Greg Bricker and County Prosecutor Vito J. Abruzzino each testified before the committee about why they believe consolidating the East Liverpool Municipal Court with the Columbiana County Municipal Court is in the best interest of the county and the taxpayers.

The chairman of the Civil Justice Committee, State Rep. Brett Hudson Hillyer, indicated at the conclusion of the testimony he expects further testimony next week, including possible testimony from opponents to House Bill 613, the bill to consolidate the court.

Ginter, who introduced the H.B. 613, said the East Liverpool Municipal Court costs the city more than $300,000 per year and when the fees lost by dissolving the court are factored in he said the city will save roughly $150,000 per year.

Ginter talked about the population decline of 62 percent in East Liverpool over the past 50 years and how with a limited caseload, the court is placing an undue burden on the city of East Liverpool.

Bricker noted that he is trying to lead the community toward revitalization, a better quality of life and robust economic development, but the court creates an “unnecessary financial hardship.”

Ginter, Bricker and Abruzzino pointed toward the case study by the Ohio Supreme Court that said the county Municipal Court, with the two full-time judges working there, could handle absorbing the case numbers from the East Liverpool Municipal Court and still be only at about 36 percent of the capacity of cases that it could handle. Ginter added that he had spoken to Judge Tim McNicol, who provides a specialized drug court docket for County Municipal Court and McNicol could assure him that he also could absorb the drug court docket from East Liverpool Municipal Court.

Although the three men all talked about Judge Dominic Frank, who died in January, and was the last judge to serve in East Liverpool, they also talked about this being the best time for the consolidation.

“His family and the staff of East Liverpool Municipal Court would like his memory to live on through the court and this is an admirable pursuit,” Abruzzino said. “That said, court consolidation is the most appropriate when its effect would not take food from a sitting judge’s table. Judge Frank’s memory will live on through his legacy of practicing law throughout the Mahoning Valley for over 30 years, well beyond the walls of what was once his courtroom.”

Additionally, Abruzzino claims sending an assistant prosecutor from the county prosecutor’s office to work at East Liverpool Municipal Court three days per week is a case of allocating resources that cannot be justified, especially when he said since January 2021, only one criminal case has been tried in East Liverpool Municipal Court. Abruzzino said he would like to focus efforts on other matters, such as the 30-plus cold case homicides in the county or numerous felony drug cases.

State Rep. Andrea White, who serves on the Civil Justice Committee, asked about the burden the closure on the court would cause for those having to drive the 20 minutes from East Liverpool or the two townships serviced by the court, Liverpool and St. Clair Townships.

Ginter responded by explaining the CARTS system to members of the committee, noting for $3.30 anyone in the county can obtain transportation to Lisbon. Abruzzino also offered that his office would be willing to work with those individuals who find it a new burden or hardship.

djohnson@mojonews.com

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