City judges want shift to full-time positions

Two municipal judges want Warren County to consider eliminating a part-time county judgeship and make their positions full time, a change they claim would save taxpayers thousands of dollars annually.

Judge Rupert Ruppert of Franklin and Judge Mark Bogen of Lebanon appeared before Warren County Commission Tuesday seeking support for the plan. The plan would eliminate the County Court part-time position judge held by Judge Don Oda, who will likely vacate it if he wins the Court of Common Pleas judge election in November.

“The Ohio Supreme Court is pushing for an elimination of part-time judges because they often cannot do what a full time judge can,” said Ruppert, citing the inability of his part-time court to have specialized dockets for drug offenses or mental illnesses.

Ruppert’s court covers cases in Franklin Twp., the city of Franklin and the village of Carlisle. Bogen’s court covers cases in the city of Lebanon and Turtlecreek Twp. Oda’s court — the one Ruppert and Bogen would be absorbing under the proposed plan — covers Washington Twp., Wayne Twp., Massie Twp., and Clearcreek Twp., as well as appeals made from the mayor’s courts in Springboro and Waynesville.

“There would be an added cost to the city of Franklin and Lebanon, but it would be made up in the additional fines and court costs assessed to guilty parties,” Ruppert said.

Ruppert and Bogen said they both handle 8,000-9,000 cases annually, whereas both part time county judges handle 8,000 combined. Each estimate they would pick up about 2,000 cases from Oda’s eliminated position if they were to become full time.

If the plan goes through, both Bogen and Ruppert would see sizable raises, with their salaries jumping from $67,144 to $114,100, annually. Judges salaries are set by the state. Municipal judges’ salaries are paid by a combination of state, county and city governments. The shift would also see an increase of $3,900 in each cities’ bailiff’s salary.

The switchover could mean the elimination of some deputy clerk jobs at the county level, although the particulars of that had not been investigated, Ruppert said.

County Commissioner Dave Young said he was neutral on the idea but interested in pursuing it further.

“If it is going to save the taxpayers money, we have to at least entertain the idea, but I want to hear from the other affected communities first,” Young said. “There would obviously be some upset parties, especially if jobs were lost, but it can’t be our duty to protect jobs that are unnecessary.”

Commissioner Pat South said a reverse plan, merging the municipal courts into a county wide court, had been rejected for several reasons, including the lack of public transportation available to take people to one centralized court and the logistics behind a move being cost prohibitive.

Both Ruppert and Bogen have private practices besides their duty as judges. They would be forced to stop those practices if they became full-time judges.

The actual act of Bogen and Ruppert becoming full time judges and the expansion of their jurisdictions would have to be made through state legislation.

Municipal judges handle all misdemeanor activities in a given jurisdiction as well as the preliminary hearings for felonies before the cases are bound to the county-wide Court of Common Pleas.

“We’re the people’s court,” Ruppert said. “We’re the judge the majority of people see if they have to come before a court.”

Representatives from Lebanon and Franklin did not want to comment until the proposals became more concrete.

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