PORT JEFFERSON — Sidney Municipal Court Judge Gary J. Carter spoke at the 2020 Trustee’s and Clerk’s Dinner held at Hussey’s Restaurant in Port Jefferson on Monday evening.
“Sidney Municipal Court is a creature of statue and began as a part-time court in 1954, and it became a full-time court in 1966. I’m the seventh judge of the court,” Carter said.
Carter gave an overview of the court, which has county-wide jurisdiction and receives its funding from Sidney, Shelby County and the state of Ohio. The Municipal Court handles cases involving misdemeanors. Minor misdemeanors are punishable by up to a $150 fine, whereas first-degree misdemeanors are punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Second, third, and fourth degree misdemeanors fall somewhere in-between. The Municipal Court also handles civil disputes such as evictions and money disputes that don’t exceed $15,000, and small claims cases have a limit of $6,000.
“As judge, my involvement in a criminal case typically begins with what’s called an arraignment. An individual gets arrested, they’re taken to jail, and they’re charged with a crime. The person has the right to appear in front of a judge in 48 hours and have their bond set,” Carter said.
Local persons that are not a flight risk, are likely to show up when they’re ordered to do so, and are not a threat to the community might be released on an Own Recognizance Bond. People who are flight risks, live in another county, or are seen as a possible threat to the community are going have to post a cash or a surety bond. Often these people have no jobs or money, and a public defender is appointed to represent them. In those cases, a not guilty plea is typically entered and a case is set for pre-trial.
The court, he said, has a pre-trial services officer that helps assess the risk-level of offenders by completing a pre-trial risk assessment. This is a tool that makes a recommendation on bonds, and the data from the risk assessment allows Carter to reduce the number of low-risk offenders waiting in jail to appear in court. A person charged with a felony will appear in front of Carter and have their bond and a preliminary hearing set.
“The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine if there is probably cause to believe that a crime has been committed, and that this person has committed that crime,” Carter said. “If probably cause is established, the case gets bound over to the Grand Jury, and I don’t see the case after that.”
Arraignments are done by video now, rather than transporting inmates from jail to the court.
“That saves a lot of time, and trouble, and also reduces the public safety risk,” Carter said.
The next time Carter sees a defendant is usually at the trial or a change of plea. The prosecuter and the defense attorney will meet before that, and they will try to settle the case. If the defendant is either found guilty or pleads guilty, I can either sentence them on the spot, depending on what the offense is, or if I want more information, I can order what is called a presentence investigation.”
Carter also talked about the funds that the court receives from the State Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, which helps the court use evidence-based practices and assist the offender. The court receives two grants. The Justice Reinvestment and Incentive Grant allows the courts to adopt policies and practices based on the latest research on how to reduce the number of offenders on probation that violate their supervision. The total funding of this grant for two years beginning in 2020 is $484,480. The grant provides salaries and benefits for two full-time probation officers, support specialists and support staff, as well as general operating expenses and programming expenses. The second grant is the Community Connection Act (CCA) Grant, which allows the court to develop community-based corrections programs designed to divert offenders from jail. The total funding for this two-year grant beginning in 2020 is $159,434. The CCA grant provides salary and benefits to the chief probations officer, as well as general operating expenses, programming expenses, and program equipment.
“This is money that we don’t have to bill our commissioners, or the city council. This is from the state. These grants help us invest in community programs, rather than sending people to jail, by using effective case planning and treatment planning,” Carter said. “We focus on cognitive behavioral treatment, rather than just sending the offenders back into the community with no assistance, where they’re likely to re-offend.”
With the commitment to these programs, the court has been able to decrease the commitments to jail from nearly 300 people in prior years to 187 in 2019. 139 people were placed in counseling and treatment programs.
The annual budget, including the grants, is about $1.5M, according to Carter. In 2019, the court handled a total of 8,582 cases, including 5,370 traffic cases, 1,179 criminal cases, and 2,033 civil cases.
County Commissioner Julie Ehemann then spoke about the 2020 census.
“The census is all about having fair representation at the federal level. It’s predicted that Ohio will lose one seat in congress if the census doesn’t go as predicted, so we’re hoping that, with an accurate count, the census doesn’t go as predicted and Ohio doesn’t lose that seat,” Ehemann said. “The census is also about money coming back into your community. It’s estimated that every individual missed will cost us about $1,600 at the county level.”
The census can be filled out online, by phone, or by mail. If a citizen doesn’t fill out the census, a census enumerator will visit their residence in order to ensure an accurate count.
The census is used for planning, and one of the most under-counted sectors in Shelby County is children under 5.
“The schools are trying to do their long-range planning and are looking at how many students they’re going to have. If we have an inaccurate number, our schools cannot be planning,” Ehemann said.
The census organization is trying to hire people to help with the census, and Shelby County has 60 percent of the number they need. Any U.S. Citizens 18 and older is eligible to work for the census. The positions are part-time and pay $19 an hour.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.