Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Fox blasts court, says it delays child cases

Domestic Relations disputes his criticism

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Butler County Commissioner Mike Fox wants Domestic Relations Court to be tougher on deadbeat parents and to reduce the number of hearing postponements.

        He directed the county's Child Support Enforcement Agency on Monday to keep track of how often the court postpones hearings and how it handles cases.

        “Some of the stuff that goes on in that court is unconscionable,” he told Dan Cade, the agency's executive director, at the commissioners' regular Monday meeting. “I want you to keep box scores of what goes on in the courts.”

        But Butler County Domestic Relations Judge Sharon Kennedy defended the court's performance.

        Postponements occur only for good reasons, she said. And putting somebody in jail is not always the best solution because people in jail can't hold jobs or pay support, she added.

        Mr. Fox has been a vocal critic of Domestic Relations Court for many years. He expressed his views on the court Monday after Mr. Cade introduced the legal team the agency hired to handle child-support cases.

        Mr. Fox has been especially critical of Domestic Relations Court having parties come to court for hearings and then continuing them to a later date.

        He said that creates a hardship for parents who miss work to attend hearings that wind up being post poned. He said he had heard of hearings being postponed because lawyers forgot their case files.

        Judge Kennedy said Mr. Fox is confusing “continuances” with cases “set for further review.”

        “A large portion of what he calls continuances are cases that have been set for further review,” she said.

        A continuance is the resetting of a hearing — often to allow a party to hire a lawyer or to allow him to be served with a contempt charge, she said.

        “I can emphatically state that we have never continued a case because a lawyer forgot a file,” Judge Kennedy said.

        Domestic Relations Court judges and magistrates set cases for further review after a hearing is held. The purpose is to monitor the case and to be sure that the parent with child-support responsibilities is looking for a job or retaining a job and is paying some support.

        “This allows us to keep track of individuals so they're not just moving about freely and not paying support,” Judge Kennedy said. “By keeping them coming back to court and holding the threat of a jail term over their heads, I get better compliance.”

        Sending them to jail is a last resort, she said.

        Judge Kennedy said she expects Domestic Relations Court to be computerized by the end of the year. That will give the commissioners and the public easy access to court statistics and public records, she said.


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