Lebanon’s part-time municipal court judge is seeking to advance the pace of the eventual transition from being a part-time judge to becoming a full-time judge.
Judge Martin Hubbell gave Lebanon City Council members a presentation during a recent work session on why this transition should be made effective Jan. 1, 2024. In a recent letter to City Manager Scott Brunka, Hubbell said he was making the request for two reasons -- potential liability and an understaffed court.
He also noted that once the Lebanon’s court jurisdiction reaches a population of 50,000, the position will become full-time. The jurisdiction includes the city of Lebanon and Turtlecreek Twp. According to the U.S. Census, the jurisdiction’s 2021 population was estimated at 38,126.
“By my count, there are 11 part-time Municipal Courts remaining in Ohio. Of those, our court is on the upper end of cases per judge and population,” Hubbell wrote. “There are many Municipal Courts that are full-time in Ohio that have a smaller population and a smaller case load than our court; others employ a full-time Magistrate, multiple part-time Magistrates, or a combination of both.”
He said the city could face potential liability similar to the case, Caddell v. Campbell, involving the city of Fairfield and Butler County. The issue is that courts have to have a probable cause hearing within 48 hours of a new/fresh arrest and regardless if its on a weekend or holiday.
Hubbell said on average, there are five to 12 people arrested from the end of court on Thursday until court resumes on Monday. The Lebanon court’s criminal/traffic court docket is on Monday and Thursday afternoons.
He said going forward, there will be probable cause hearings scheduled throughout the week and on weekends and holidays. Hubbell also said in the recent 2024 paperwork for insurance, the question was asked about 48-hour requirement.
The process to transition the position to full-time status requires the approval of the city, Warren County, the Warren County Bar Association, and the Ohio Supreme Court. The local cost would increase $26,250 a year with the city paying $15,750 and the county paying $10,500. The Ohio Supreme Court would pick up the balance of the costs, Hubbell wrote. He said these costs would remain constant through 2028 by state statute.
There are four municipal/county courts in Warren County that are courts of record. They include Franklin Municipal, Lebanon Municipal, Mason Municipal, and Warren County Court.
In 2022, the Lebanon court handled 1,129 felony and misdemeanor cases; 2,849 traffic cases; and 591 regular civil and small claims cases, according to the court’s annual report issued in March 2023.
Mayor Mark Messer said there was a consensus of council members to move forward with Hubbell’s request.
“We’re 100% on board based on the amount of activity and the anticipated future regional growth,” Messer said. “He runs a tight ship and at this point, I think it’s necessary.”
He said council will consider the matter at an upcoming meeting.