A dispute over courtroom three in the Greene County Courthouse has landed in the Ohio Supreme Court, and the litigation could be costly to the county.
Months of negotiations failed between General Division judges Stephen Wolaver and Michael Buckwalter and Probate Judge Thomas O’Diam, whose smaller hearing room presents security concerns and has limited space for adoption hearings where sometimes dozens of people are in attendance.
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Judge O’Diam has proposed to move all probate hearings to courtroom three while maintaining a calendar with the General Division for scheduling their hearings in that courtroom. In addition, O’Diam is proposing that grand jury hearings are moved to Room 16 inside the courthouse.
Wolaver proposed that the General Division maintain scheduling and oversight of courtroom three and setting aside certain days for the probate court to use the space when needed.
After a solution could not be reached, the judges reached out to the county commissioners to resolve the matter and after some further failed negotiations, commissioners voted to move the probate court out of the historical courthouse and into renovated space in the basement of the juvenile court building on Progress Drive.
County commissioners have put out a request for proposals from attorneys who can represent them in the dispute with Probate Judge Thomas O’Diam, who has filed a writ of mandamus with the state’s highest court. O’Diam wants the commissioners’ decision to move the probate court operations out of the historic courthouse to be rescinded, and for his proposal to be accepted as the best solution.
“… Board of County Commissioners … has unlawfully failed and refused to comply with (Judge O’Diam’s) reasonable requests for a shared use of courtroom three, and has instead voted to completely oust the entire probate court operation from the courthouse and relocated it to the basement of the Greene County Juvenile Justice Center … at significant and completely unnecessary public expense,” O’Diam’s writ of mandamus reads.
The commissioners in-turn filed a writ of prohibition with the Ohio Supreme Court against O’Diam’s court order to move probate court operations to courtroom three.
The Ohio Supreme Court justices decided last week to move the two cases into mediation, after which the justices will make a decision, according Ohio Supreme Court records.
County taxpayers will be on the hook for not only paying for the commissioners’ legal and attorney fees through mediation, but also that of Judge O’Diam. Ohio law dictates that the prosecutor’s office represent a county judge on any litigation, but in this case there’s a conflict-of-interest with the county prosecutor’s office..
County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said the prosecutor and the board of commissioners had to have a joint petition granted “to obtain outside legal counsel for Probate Division.”
Huddleson said it’s too early to know how much the legal battle is going to cost.
“Costs will not be known until the contract is awarded,” he said.
The courthouse is a busy place and courtroom three handles a lot of the overflow of General Division cases, which include civil, domestic and criminal cases as well as mediations for civil cases, according to Ron Mellotte, bailiff for Judge Wolaver.
“When this courthouse was built, all the government offices were here,” Mellotte said. “There was only one courtroom …There was only one judge in Greene County, but the population grew … Over the years as things grew, it wasn’t big enough to hold everything so one-by-one offices started branching out.”
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