December 22, 2014

Elyria
Intermittent clouds
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Judges ask Ohio Supreme Court to dismiss challenge to diversion program

ELYRIA — Lorain County’s General Division judges have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to dismiss a challenge, filed by county Prosecutor Dennis Will last month, to their court-run diversion program.

Will contends the four-year-old program is unconstitutional, and that under state law only prosecutors are allowed to operate diversion programs.

The judges argued in a court filing Thursday that Will’s request should be thrown out because he already is challenging the legality of the program in the Ohio Ninth District Court of Appeals.

“(Will) has an adequate remedy at law: an appeal to the Ninth District Court of Appeals, a remedy (Will) acknowledges having pursued and a remedy (Will) acknowledges he is presently pursuing in the court of appeals,” the judges wrote.

Will’s office has appealed each time the judges allowed a defendant to enter their diversion program, something the judges have done 22 times since the program began, but has never received a decision from the appeals court that settles the issue.

Because the Ninth District hasn’t ruled on whether the program is legal, Will has argued that the only way to end the dispute is to get the Supreme Court to weigh in.

Will already runs a diversion program out of his office, but Administrative Judge James Burge has said he and his fellow judges implemented their own program because of concerns about who Will was allowing to enter his program.

Burge has said the judges were concerned that Will was effectively giving veto power to victims in deciding whether a defendant would be given diversion. The problem with that, Burge has said, is that two people facing the same charges for the same crimes could have two very different outcomes depending on the decision of the victim in the case.

Someone who enters a diversion program pleads guilty to the charges against them, but the guilty plea isn’t accepted. Instead, the defendant is placed on probation, typically for a year, and if he completes the program, the charges are dropped.

Will has argued that it’s proper to let victims have a say in what happens to those who committed crimes against them.

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