ACLU Ohio reports mayor’s courts need reforms

Mayor’s courts across Ohio operate with little oversight and have a financial incentive to wring revenue from drivers as a means of stocking the municipal coffers, according to a report issued Monday by the ACLU of Ohio.

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The civil liberties group, which spent more than a year investigating nearly 300 mayor’s courts, is asking the Ohio General Assembly to reform the system to be more transparent and fair.

Recommended changes include restoring state funding to cities so they’re not pressured to gin up revenue through mayor’s courts, eliminate the mayor’s courts in urban counties and route those cases to municipal courts, increase annual training for mayors and magistrates, require more data collection, and abolish driver license suspensions for any reason other than public safety concerns.

Related: Chief Justice to Ohio judges: Courts aren’t ATMs to collect fees

Only Ohio and Louisana have mayor’s courts, which can be formed by any municipality of more than 200 residents and no municipal court. In Ohio there are 295 mayor’s courts in 64 of 88 counties.

“The problems with mayor’s courts are overwhelming. Mayors have the authority to direct their municipalities’ police to issue citations, and they can use the mayor’s court to collect fines and fees for these citations to fund their municipalities,” the report said.

The ACLU of Ohio found that North Olmstead collected $1.3 million in citation revenues, Lockland took in nearly $900,000 and Bratenahl pulled in $500,000 in a single year.

The report found that mayor’s courts do not have transcripts or recordings of proceedings, only six hours of training is required of mayors who operate the courts and one out of six traffic tickets issued in Ohio in 2016 came in cities with mayor’s courts.

In 51 jurisdictions, police write tickets at four or more times the average rate of officers elsewhere in Ohio, said Sri Thakkilapati, lead author of the report. Researchers also found black people are more likely to be stopped and ticketed in inner ring suburbs with mayor’s courts.

Related: Ohio chief justice wants major changes to state’s bail, criminal justice system

The ACLU of Ohio said jail, arrest and license suspension — tactics employed by mayor’s courts — are excessive penalties for minor traffic violations.

While court rulings dating back to 1927 have detailed abuses in the system, Ohio still needs sweeping changes, the report said.

Related: Ohio parole board under fire from victims, inmates and lawmakers

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