Editor’s Note: This is the 10th of 13 weekly columns on Clinton County departments leading up to the celebration of the courthouse’s 100th anniversary celebration. Today’s column features the Clinton County Court of Common Pleas.
The Clinton County Common Pleas Court has served as the only constitutionally created general jurisdiction trial court for the administration of justice within the county for nearly 200 years. The court presides over all adult felony criminal cases, civil disputes and domestic relations cases.
On January 1, 2019, Common Pleas Court Judge John W. (Tim) Rudduck began his fourth, six-year term in office. Magistrates for the court are Mary McElwee and Helen Rowlands.
Magistrates are licensed attorneys who perform numerous judicial functions and are appointed by the court judge. As a part of their judicial duties, both local magistrates conduct pre-trials, rule on motions and hear bench trials.
Magistrate Rowlands handles criminal arraignments, civil protection orders and the domestic relations docket. Magistrate McElwee handles the civil docket prior to any jury trial. All magistrate decisions must be adopted by Judge Rudduck in order to become orders of the court
Felony criminal cases involve crimes for which an individual may be sanctioned to local community control sanctions, prison or even death. Over the past decade, most of the felony cases before the court involve drug-related crimes.
Civil cases involve issues arising from auto accidents, breach of contracts, personal injury, wrongful death, discrimination, real estate (including, boundary disputes, partitions, foreclosures, and the government taking of property) and professional malpractice.
Domestic relations cases involve divorce-dissolution proceedings, legal separation agreements, annulment, allocation of parental rights and responsibilities for the care of children, spousal support, civil domestic violence cases and all post decree domestic relations matters.
The court also exercises appellate jurisdiction over the decisions of numerous state and local administrative agencies, boards, and commissions.
In 2018, 2,289 new cases were filed. Of those, 456 were felony cases, including but not limited to cases of rape, robbery, burglary and drug trafficking; 363 were domestic relations cases; and 228 were new civil cases.
The remainder of the cases involved 1,242 new lien filings which led to judgment debtor exams, garnishment proceedings, executions against property and contempt proceedings.
In addition to timely concluding all criminal and civil actions, the court also has the responsibility to preside over the Clinton County Grand Jury which has the power to hand down indictments in criminal cases.
And the court is responsible for the operation of the Probation Department which supervises those criminal defendants placed on community control as part of their sentence.
Kelly Hopkins is the Chief Security Officer. He is also the administrative assistant and bailiff to Judge Rudduck. He is responsible for overseeing courtroom control/security, recording the proceedings, and retaining all recordings and exhibits. In addition, he is responsible for coordinating the attorneys’ use of their own high-tech audio and video equipment. Hopkins is the budget administrator and is responsible for orienting the jurors, maintaining their security, and other needs before and during a trial.
Beth Klemetsen, assistant to Magistrate McElwee, ensures that the court has enough jurors for trials and is also responsible for membership on the Clinton County Grand Jury. She records proceedings and retains exhibits. As the Civil Mediation Coordinator, she schedules mediation sessions with an independent mediator, maintains records of outcomes and prepares a yearly report. Additionally, she files monthly reports with the Ohio Supreme Court regarding all cases.
Kirk Neuenschwander, assistant to Magistrate Rowlands, serves as the courtroom bailiff and is responsible for courtroom control/security, recording the proceedings, and retention of court recordings and exhibits. As the domestic relations compliance officer, he makes sure the language in all filings complies with state law and local rules. He is also responsible for preparing the court’s contract with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services which provides the county substantial reimbursement for judicial actions involving child support. And he makes monthly reports the Ohio Supreme Court.
You-Turn Recovery Drug Docket
In response to the local drug addiction epidemic, and after much planning and deliberation, Judge Rudduck developed a drug court docket in the fall of 2014 with first participants appearing in January 2015.
The You-Turn Recovery Drug Court meets the first and third Fridays of each month at 1:30 p.m. in the Common Pleas courtroom. The public is encouraged to attend and support the participants who are addressing their drug addiction in a therapeutic setting.
Since its inception, 20 graduates have completed the intense 18-month minimum program which is founded on the principle that addiction is a health issue for which recovery is possible. Five more participants are scheduled to graduate on Thursday, Sept. 26, in a public ceremony at the First Christian Church.
Ken Houghtaling is a supervision officer associated with the court’s Intervention in Lieu of Conviction program. With his guidance and support, many participants, including several graduates of the You-Turn docket, completed recovery programming resulting in dismissal of their felony case without a conviction upon their record..
The Clinton County Civil Mediation Program was established to improve the quality of justice, conserve court resources, and reduce delays in the disposition of court cases by providing the community with an alternative forum in which to resolve civil disputes at no cost to the taxpayers. The program is fully funded through court costs and available at no added expense to the litigants.
Through the process of third-party facilitated negotiation, parties are empowered to reach mutually beneficial agreements without expending the significant time and costs often associated with civil litigation.
Attorney Bill Kaufmann is the independent contractor/mediator who mediates non-domestic civil disputes. Several local attorneys and lay individuals mediate domestic relations disputes, including child custody.