Friday, December 01, 2000

Butler leaders scrutinize court budget

Domestic Relations wants 4.5% increase, defends having a compliance unit

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Butler County Commissioner Mike Fox and Domestic Relations Judge Sharon Kennedy on Thursday debated the need for a unit that makes sure documents filed by lawyers comply with court rules.

        The compliance unit, which has four employees, costs the county general fund $260,000. During a hearing on the Domestic Relations Court's proposed 2001 budget, Mr. Fox said the compliance unit is unnecessary.

        “Why is the compliance unit important?” he asked Judge Kennedy.

        Catching errors in court documents before they're filed with the clerk of courts prevents long delays in resolving the cases, the judge said.

        “It's much more efficient to review documents beforehand,” Judge Kennedy said. “Compliance is necessary. We are completely in line with what larger counties are doing.”

        She said all of Ohio's 88 counties have a compliance unit for domestic relations court.

Asking for raise
               Domestic Relations Court has proposed a $1.8 million budget for 2001, a 4.5 percent increase over this year's budget.

        The compliance unit rejects any court documents that don't adhere to court rules or fail to contain required legal language. Attorneys whose filings have been rejected for noncompliance must file amended ones.

        “It's our quality control,” said Linda Lovelace, administrator for Domestic Rela tions Court. “We prefer to correct the errors before they go through the entire system.”

        The Butler County commissioners want Domestic Relations Court to raise its court fees to pay for its compliance unit.

        Judge Kennedy agreed to consider raising the fee for a divorce filing by $50.

        But she said she and fellow Domestic Relations Judge Leslie Spillane do not want to raise fees so high as to create an unreasonable financial burden on people.

        “I don't have a problem with making it more difficult for people to get a divorce,” Mr. Fox said.

        Judge Kennedy said that many people who come to court for a divorce are under serious financial strain.

        The commissioners and County Administrator Derek Conklin also asked Judge Kennedy whether Domestic Relations Court could use money from its special project fund to pay for court security provided by the sheriff's department.

Not an option
               Judge Kennedy said an Ohio attorney general's opinion appears to say that it's illegal for the court to use money from its special projects fund for existing programs. The county prosecutor's office agreed.

        Judge Kennedy said that if the Ohio attorney general issues an opinion allowing the use of special projects funds for existing programs, Domestic Relations Court will consider using it to pay security costs.


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