“He’s the poster boy for me about why we shouldn’t have part-time judges,” Gmoser told the Journal-News. “And we only need one, they only serve one day a week. The net result is there could be considerable savings in facilities.”
There are 49 employees working in the three courts not including administrative staff that serve the court as a whole, according to the 2022 tax budget submission. The total 2021 budget is $2.96 million.
The county leases space in Oxford but that amount was not available. The county owns the Historic Courthouse in Hamilton, where Area II is housed, and the commissioners recently finalized a new 16-month lease agreement with West Chester for $3,000 monthly.
On the issue of impropriety Lyons told the Journal-News there could be a “perception of an appearance of impropriety” on a part-time bench but he has never seen it.
“There’s that potential but I don’t know that it’s happened,” Lyons said. “There’s always a potential of impropriety with a judge, but that doesn’t mean there’s an impropriety.”
Unseating elected, sitting judges without cause would be very difficult, but there is a vacancy on the three-judge court. Former Area III Court Judge Dan Haughey was elected to the Common Pleas Court bench office last year and took office in January.
Commissioner T.C. Rogers said the vacancy makes this a good time to consider Gmoser’s idea. He raised it previously during budget hearings last year.
“This has been an on-and-off discussion for a number of years,” Rogers said. “So when there is a vacancy and in the number of Area Court judges then this probably is more of an opportune time to further the discussion.”
Haughey’s seat was filled almost immediately. Lyons applied for it and was appointed by the governor. He would have been term-limited by his age if he fulfilled his own term in office.
Butler County GOP Executive Chairman Todd Hall said officials sent Lyons’ application to Gov. Mike DeWine, and after he was appointed, they sent another to fill Lyons’ vacated seat. Only one attorney applied to fill the Lyons vacancy, and DeWine has yet to fill the seat.
A DeWine spokesman said the legal division is still working on the appointment.
The judges are elected to the court as a whole not to specific locations. Lyons has remained in Oxford, and visiting judges have been manning the West Chester court. West Chester Trustee Ann Becker expressed frustration about the situation.
“I know that’s kind of frustrating for our police officers, you never really know who’s going be sitting on that bench,” Becker said. “It’s not good to have a substitute teacher month, after month, after month, after month.”
Lyons said there may be a savings to the county, but an additional expense to the other jurisdictions if the courts are consolidated.
“Really the savings for West Chester and Oxford are tremendous not having to leave Oxford and West Chester,” Lyons said. “Oxford, Miami (University), Oxford Twp. West Chester police having the court in their township or in their area is a tremendous savings.”
Becker said she doesn’t want the township to lose its court and Oxford City Manager Doug Elliott said the city already studied this when Gmoser raised the issue previously and they do not support such a move.
Commissioner Don Dixon said it won’t be easy if they do pursue it but that isn’t a good reason to just dismiss it.
“That won’t be a simple move, you’ve got to bet all those people together, to agree to it,” Dixon said. “We’ll look at it, we look at everybody’s suggestions and ideas and we’ll look at this and see. On the face of it is a pretty complex move, but you never say no to somebody that has an idea.”