AVON LAKE — Judge Darrel Bilancini wants the Avon Lake Municipal Court to become a full-time court.
Although the court is open for regular business Monday through Friday, Bilancini himself typically takes the bench only on Tuesdays and Thursdays in his capacity as a part-time judge.
When Bilancini isn’t on the bench, he works as an attorney for the law firm of Fauver, Keyse-Walker & Donovan. That firm represents The Chronicle-Telegram, but Bilancini has never personally represented the paper.
Bilancini said because he’s at the court only twice a week, it means long days on the bench with attorneys, police officers and people with business before the court sometimes waiting for hours to appear before him. Going full time also would allow him to devote more time to court business, including revising the local rules for attorneys, something he’s wanted to do since he first took the bench in 2006.
“I’d really prefer to do it full time because it requires my full-time attention,” he said.
Bilancini said he believes the court’s growing caseload justifies having a full-time judge serving the residents of Avon, Avon Lake and Sheffield, the three communities Avon Lake Municipal Court has jurisdiction over.
In 2012, the court handled 2,969 cases, 225 of which were resolved by people paying fines to close out tickets, according to figures provided by Bilancini. In 2013, the total number of cases grew to 3,540 with 330 of those being resolved by people not fighting their tickets and paying the fines.
Several full-time municipal courts across the state have similar or even lower caseloads, according to an analysis of numbers that Bilancini said was based on figures provided by the Ohio Supreme Court.
For instance, Holmes County Municipal Court had an overall caseload of 3,732 in 2012, of which 1,697 were resolved by people choosing not to fight their tickets.
Population growth is another factor that Bilancini said would justify changing to a full-time court.
The Holmes County Municipal Court serves 42,366 people, while the Avon Lake court served 47,756 people in 2012. That population grew to 48,587 last year and is likely to keep growing, the judge said.
Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka said he’s open to the idea of a full-time municipal court, but he wants to make sure there aren’t unanticipated costs like paying for increased security and having to make prosecutors who are now part time into full-time employees.
“I have to be concerned about the additional costs,” Zilka said.
The judge said security costs are covered by a court fee and he would be willing to shape his schedule so that prosecutors and other attorneys can appear before him and still make it to court appearances elsewhere.
Avon Lake and Vermilion are the only two municipal courts in Lorain County with part-time judges.
Bilancini said there won’t be a need for additional court staff and the cost for shifting to a full-time court would be limited to an increase in his salary. Under state law, part-time municipal judges earn $65,650 per year, while full-time judges are paid $114,100 per year.
It would be a raise of $48,450 per year, but Bilancini also said he would have to stop doing work as a private attorney if the plan is approved by the state Legislature, something he hopes will happen yet this year.
Bilancini said that it can be somewhat awkward as a part-time judge to go from making decisions from the bench one day to working as an attorney the next, possibly even dealing with an attorney who appeared before him in his capacity as a judge.
Bilancini’s salary is split among Avon Lake, the Lorain County commissioners and the state.