December 20, 2014

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Coalition backs making judgeship in Avon Lake court a full-time post

Darrel Bilancini

Darrel Bilancini

Correction: Avon Lake Municipal Court will not add staff if it becomes a full-time court.

Avon Lake Municipal Court Judge Darrel Bilancini said Wednesday he believes he’s gathered the support he needs to convince the Ohio Legislature to approve a plan to make him a full-time judge.

“There doesn’t seem to be anybody who doesn’t think it’s a good idea,” he said.

Bilancini testified Wednesday before an Ohio Senate committee in Columbus and said he was told by the committee’s chair that he has all the pieces of support the committee was seeking.

“You will help me to do a better job as a judge by making the position full time,” Bilancini was quoted as telling the committee in a news release issued by the office of state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville.

The Ohio Supreme Court, the Lorain County Bar Association, Avon Lake City Council and Lorain County commissioners, who voted on a resolution Wednesday, all have voiced support for the proposal.

It also has drawn bipartisan backing from Lorain County’s legislative representatives, which consist of Manning, state Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, state Rep. Terry Boose, R-Norwalk, and state Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain.

Avon Lake has one of the few remaining part-time courts in the state, and Bilancini said he needs more time on the bench in order to keep up with his caseload.

According to figures provided by Bilancini, Avon Lake Municipal Court handled 2,969 cases in 2012. Last year that figure grew to 3,540. The court has jurisdiction in Avon, Avon Lake and Sheffield.

Bilancini is typically on the bench Tuesdays and Thursday and when he’s not, he works as an attorney for the law firm of Fauver, Keyse-Walker & Donovan. The Chronicle-Telegram is represented by the firm, but Bilancini has never personally represented the paper.

The judge previously has said that converting to a full-time court will not require additional staff and the extra costs will be limited to an increase in his salary. Part-time municipal judges are paid $65,650 under state law, while full-time judges earn $114,100 per year.

Avon Lake, the county commissioners and the state split the cost of Bilancini’s salary.

County Administrator Jim Cordes said he has concerns that the cost to the county could be higher based on his examination of the numbers. Bilancini said it will cost the county about $12,000 more per year, while Cordes estimated it would be around $37,000.

“I wasn’t questioning the justification, I was questioning the cost,” Cordes told the commissioners Wednesday.

But Bilancini said he’s confident in his figures. He said Cordes was basing his estimates off the salaries and benefits of the clerk and bailiff at Oberlin Municipal Court.

Bilancini said his clerk and bailiff don’t earn as much as their counterparts in Oberlin, and he isn’t planning to implement raises because of the conversion.

The judge said Manning told him that the full Senate could vote on the matter later this month.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.