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On Cuyahoga Court Consolidation, A Municipal Judge Says: Not So Fast

The Justice Center in downtown Cleveland. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
The Justice Center in downtown Cleveland.

A Northeast Ohio judge says it’s not the right time to talk about consolidating the roughly dozen municipal court systems in Cuyahoga County.

The idea of fusing the county’s 13 separate municipal courts has circulated for years, and two common pleas judges floated the notion anew in a story this week in Cleveland.com.

But Shaker Heights Judge K.J. Montgomery said talking about that isn’t an efficient use of time right now.

“I think this idea right now is just a little ahead of itself unnecessarily,” Montgomery said in an interview Thursday.

Municipal courts handle traffic cases, misdemeanors and early appearances for people charged with felonies. Court districts employ their own staffs and the voters elect their own judges.

Judge John Russo, the presiding and administrative judge of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, and Judge David Matia said this week that local jurists should decide whether to consolidate.

“I’m not saying we need to do it absolutely, but why is there not a discussion about it before we move forward?” Matia told Cleveland.com.

According to the news outlet, the judges said consolidation would make it easier to book new arrestees in a central location where they could receive drug or mental health services. They also told Cleveland.com that the consolidation discussion could have an impact on decisions about the future of the downtown Justice Center.

Montgomery referred to that discussion as “a diversion,” saying judges are already trying to collaborate on offering such pretrial services for defendants. She sent an email to judges this week listing the ways courts work together.

Judges, including Montgomery and Russo, met in January to continue talks on how the county could expand its pretrial services system for all municipal courts.

“Let’s keep going where we’ve got some traction,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery suggested there’s a benefit to local judges who understand their communties. She also acknowledged that some judges may not want to give up their “fiefdoms.” And she said court leaders could tackle other problems in the justice system first.

“If the judges and the Plain Dealer and others want to explore consolidation of our separate municipal courts,” she said, “it doesn’t impact how fast we get our information, where prisoners are housed, how fast attorneys are appointed. Those are all things that can be handled extraneously and better than they are right now, without raising this new issue of suburban court consolidation.”

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.