Monday, May 01, 2000

Ohio courts re-examined

Selection policies at issue

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A state commission wants to change the way Ohio's courts select judges and juries.

        In a report released today, the Ohio Courts Futures Commission concluded the state's courts would be fairer and more efficient with a new selection process.

        The commission, which began reviewing the court system in 1997, recommended creating a non-partisan panel to set new standards for evaluating all prospective judges.

        The panel would draft minimum qualifications for judges and tell voters whether candidates met those standards.

        The panel also would submit a list of approved candidates when the governor wants to appoint judges to fill open seats.

        The panel did not go the next step, long urged by advocates of “merit selection,” which would end judicial elections and create a body of Ohioans who would choose judges from among candidates who met its criteria.

        Also ignored was another process, in which voters and the governor continue to pick judges, but incumbents periodically must win voters' approval in uncontested elections to retain their jobs.

        The Futures Commission also suggested revamping the jury selection process by making more people eligible for jury service.

        Under the commission's proposal, names of potential jurors could be drawn from vehicle registrations, driver's licenses and other public directories. Jurors are now drawn from voter registration lists.

        The changes are among dozens recommended in the commission's 115-page report.

        The commission — educators, lawyers, judges and business people — was appointed three years ago by the Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer to evaluate the court system and prepare it for the next 25 years.

        “None of this is radical change,” Justice Moyer said. “But we're talking about a system that by nature looks to the past.”

        Commission co-chairman Robert Duncan said the changes in the judicial and jury selection process could bring more diversity and accountability to the courts.

        Other recommendations include:

        „Eliminating mayor's courts. Instead of allowing small-town mayors, who often are not lawyers, to decide minor cases, use “trained judicial officers.”

        „Creating specialized courts, modeled on drug courts in Hamilton and other counties. Environmental courts, business courts and family courts are possibilities.

        „Expanding the use of new technology. Create a technology standards committee to evaluate new technologies and ensure all state courts are compatible.


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