MILLERSBURG -- Since being sworn into office as Holmes County's Municipal Court Judge in November, Andrew Hyde said, "Things are good."
He updated the Holmes County commissioners Monday, April 24, on the operations of the court.
Hyde was appointed to the position by Ohio Gov. John Kasich following the death of longtime Judge Jane Irving.
Hyde said he's committed to working within the budget appropriated to the court by the county commissioners.
Only last week, Hyde said, the court disposed of the last remaining case with which he had an outstanding conflict, dating to his time as a defense attorney. That, he said, will translate to a decrease in the cost of paying a visiting judge to preside over such matters.
Cases are moving through the system at a better pace.
"When I took over, this court had the worst record in the state for moving cases along. Now, it's in full compliance," he said.
To increase the capability of the court and expedite actions, Hyde, who already has moved a computer onto the bench, said he hopes to equip the courtroom with wifi connectivity and a printer, from which he can print and distribute to various parties before the conclusion of any hearing.
Internet connectivity, he said, would help to bring immediate resolution to outstanding legal questions, which come up at nearly every arraignment.
"It helps with the more instantaneous research," said Hyde, who said he will continue to find and secure grant funds for improvements to the court.
Hyde said new software seems not to be fully working and appears to be impeding, among other things, distribution of local fees collected from defendants.
In an attempt to expedite distribution, Hyde said he has instituted local changes which would allow local money to be distributed before fines are sent to the state for distribution to others.
But, he said, "There's no way to get that into the software."
Similarly, he said, the software does not seem to allow for an option that would allow him to convert unpaid fines to community service obligations, out of which defendants also may pay their way.
"The software is not working well with the software we were using before," he said, adding included instructional hours were fully exhausted on the clerk of court's staff, making it necessary for Hyde to educate himself or pay for additional hours to receive instruction from the software company.
Hyde also said the court's office, with the exception of one full-time bailiff, is staffed by the clerk of courts. He said staffing is down and he is concerned overworked employees could become unnecessarily frustrated and disenchanted.
"I see it as a court issue. (Clerk of Courts Ronda Steimel) sees it as a her issue," said Hyde, adding he is unaware if there is progress being made in an attempt to fill the position.
Nevertheless, "I don't want to lose the good ones," said Hyde, noting that could trigger a collapse of the system.
When he assumed the position, Hyde said, he was surprised staff were not all employees of the court, and said he's come to see that as being problematic at times, especially when he's been required to do the job of bailiff and judge on the rare occasion when his one employee is off for a day.
"It would be nice if everyone there was working for the good of the court," he said.
A shortage of attorneys
Hyde also told the commissioners that with his appointment to the bench and the recent departure of Luke Brewer from the area, he is struggling to find local attorneys to appoint to indigent defendants. Consequently, he said, he has had to look to Wayne County attorneys, who often charge milage to travel to Holmes County for court.
He agreed with the commissioners establishment of a designated public defender, likely through a contract, could help to remedy the problem, although the county would still have to pay outside counsel for defense work in cases involving multiple defendants, in which a conflict prohibits representation of several by the same attorney or firm.
Concerned about the unresolved staffing and software issues, the commissioners said they will ask Steimel to meet with them next week.
"We'll get to he bottom. We'll fix it," said Commissioner Joe Miller, adding, "We appreciate what you're doing. We are fortunate in this county to have judges who are willing to work with us. A judge is pretty powerful (able to order expenses) when they put the robe on."
In that vein, Commissioner Ray Eyler added, "I like that you've been in good communication with us."
Because Irving was less than halfway through her term, the public must elect a replacement to serve out the remainder of the term, which expires Dec. 31, 2019. To that end, Hyde is challenged in the upcoming May 2 Republican primary election by local attorney Sam Steimel. No other candidate has filed to challenge the winner of that race in the November general election.
Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or email@example.com.