Monday, October 11, 2010

New Position of Assistant Law Director for Mayor’s Court Has No Functional Role Whatsoever

Prepared Comments Made to
October 11, 2010

Two weeks ago this council passed Ordinance 73-10 establishing the position of Assistant Director of Law/Mayor’s Court Prosecutor. The legislation was passed on its second reading on an emergency.

I appealed to this council in remarks prior to each of the two readings to reconsider this course of action and urged this council to restructure the position of Law Director to a full-time position and get control of legal fees and services for the City which presently come at a very high cost. A sixteen-hour work week for the City Law Director in this day and age is inadequate.

Two weeks ago I noted that North Canton has expended $414,870.41 for outside legal services over the last five years. Adding in the $245,000 paid to the City’s law director for each of the last five years at $49,000 per year for a sixteen-hour work week results in the expenditure of nearly $660,000 ($659,870.41) for legal services in the last five years. This is an average of $132,000 per year.

North Canton is paying $62.50 per hour for the services of an attorney to fill the role of Law Director while the Stark County Prosecutor’s office pays $39.14 per hour to its most senior attorney. Nearly two dozen other attorneys at the prosecutor’s office earn less than $30.00 per hour.

My point tonight after further research on this issue is the fact that the newly passed legislation creates a position of Assistant Law Director to serve specifically as a prosecutor in mayor’s court when in fact there is no role for a prosecutor in mayor’s court.

Councilmembers should avail themselves of the time to sit in on a North Canton Mayor’s Court and see how the process works.

Mayor’s Court is an administrative action. People are cited to appear for violation of local ordinances and traffic laws. The city official charged with enforcement of local ordinances issues the citation. In the case of traffic offenses, it is the local police. In the case of zoning violations it is whoever is responsible for enforcement of local zoning laws, which in North Canton is the Superintendent of Permits.

Mayor’s Court does not unfold as a capital case as seen on TV. There are no prosecuting attorneys. There are no defense attorneys.

The individual simply appears before a magistrate and pleads guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If the individual pleads either guilty or no contest, the magistrate levies a fine and the individual pays the fine and court costs. If the individual is found guilty after pleading not guilty, the ruling can be appealed and heard in Canton Municipal court and proceeds as a trial de novo per ORC 1905.25, meaning a new trial in a new tribunal.

Further research has uncovered a contract between the City of Canton Law Department and the City of North Canton for the purpose of providing legal representation in Canton Municipal Court for $17,000 per year.
This annual contract expense with the Canton Prosecutor’s office raises North Canton’s legal costs per year to $149,000 per year.

The latest contract covers 2010 and 2011 and was approved by council in Ordinance No. 99-09 on November 23, 2009.

Among the list of services itemized in the contract with the Canton Law Department is Item a. – Acceptance for prosecution of transfers from Mayor’s Court.

Thus there is no role for a prosecutor in North Canton Mayor’s Court nor is there a role in Canton Municipal Court. What exactly is North Canton’s new Assistant Director of Law going to do?

Ordinance 73-10 narrowly defines the duties and compensation of the Assistant Director of Law as pertaining to Out of Court and In Court Work as a prosecutor in Mayor’s Court.

What work is there to do? Can this legislative act of North Canton City Council serve any purpose?

I would say nothing has been accomplished with the passage of Ordinance No. 73-10.

I also would say that North Canton should have been working harder long ago to maintain neighborhoods in the City and citing violations of its zoning laws.

You do not need a prosecutor in North Canton Mayor’s Court. Furthermore, the services of the City of Canton Prosecutor’s Office also preclude the need for a prosecutor for enforcement of local ordinances.

Lastly, I am compelled to ask why the City has been billed $1,548.90 by the law firm of Morrow & Meyer, LLC for prosecution of the Prater zoning violation when there are provisions in place to deal with enforcement of the zoning violation in both Mayor’s Court and then in the Canton Municipal Court.

The zoning violation could very easily have been handled administratively in North Canton Mayor’s Court and if forced in to Canton Municipal Court, handled per the contract in place with the City of Canton Prosecutor’s office.

As events have unfolded, the City of North Canton chose not to utilize the services of the Canton Prosecutor’s Office and paid a second time for legal services of a private law firm for which it need not have paid.

I believe this is a violation of public trust and is most certainly fiscally irresponsible.

I ask at this time that the law firm of Morrow & Meyer, LLC refund back to the taxpayers of North Canton the $1,548.90 it has received regarding the prosecution of the Prater zoning violation case as the Canton City Prosecutor’s Office was under contract to provide such legal services in Canton Municipal Court and would have done so without added cost to the taxpayers of North Canton.

I urge this council to also ask that those funds be returned. The city has been double-billed for legal services and taxpayers are due a refund.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
Resident, City of North Canton