July 23, 2014

Elyria
Clear
75°F
test

Merged court loses support of officials

County commissioners back off plan to create Family Court

ELYRIA — County commissioners pulled their support Thursday for merging the county’s Probate and Domestic Relations courts into a single Family Court.

The move will provide ammunition for state Rep. Joe Koziura, D-Lorain, when he introduces a bill in the state Legislature this fall to end the plan, which was to go into effect when current Probate Court Judge Frank Horvath leaves the bench in 2009.

Commissioner Ted Kalo said the county can’t afford the $750,000 price tag for the new court staff and prosecutors that will accompany the creation of the Family Court, nor the changes that would have to be made at the county Justice Center to accommodate the setup.

But Domestic Relations Court Administrator Doug Messer disputed the numbers and asked the commissioners to hold off on the decision. Domestic Relations Judge David Basinski, one of the plan’s backers, couldn’t attend the meeting to argue on its behalf, Messer said.

Messer also said that the cost for staffing the court would be closer to $389,000. And modifications to the Justice Center wouldn’t be necessary right away, he said.

But Kalo said the Domestic Relations Court already has received more than $150,000 in additional funding this year, and it likely will need another $150,000 before the year is out.

With the county’s tight budget, adding expenses doesn’t work, Kalo said.

“I just don’t see where any of the cuts are going to be enough to get us to zero costs,” he said.

On Thursday, Commission-er Lori Kokoski voted against withdrawing the support commissioners gave the plan several years ago, but she said she simply wanted to give the Domestic Relations judges more time to make their case.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t rescind it, but we should have had more discussion on it,” she said.

Domestic Relations Judge Debra Boros said she was disappointed by the loss of support from the commissioners.

“It’s the Family Court concept that we believed would benefit Lorain County,” she said. “It was worth the discussion.”

Boros said she has yet to consult with Basinski about what — if any — further efforts they will make to save the Family Court plan.

Koziura said he has concerns not only about the cost of implementing the Family Court, but that he believes that the Probate and Domestic Relations courts work fine separately, so there’s no need to change them.

“The issue is money, plus it doesn’t make any sense,” Koziura said.

State representatives Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, and Matt Barrett, D-Amherst, along with state Sen. Sue Morano, D-Lorain, all said they back Koziura’s plan to keep the courts’ status quo.

The Domestic Relations judges have said they will need to add a fourth judge in the near future if the Family Court plan doesn’t become a reality to help handle rising caseloads.

Kalo said the county might be willing to look at that — if county residents approve a 0.25 percentage point sales tax increase that will bring in $7.4 million annually.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.