What You Should Know about Funding Ohio Courts
Q: Who funds Ohio courts and judges?
A: Ohio courts are funded by a variety of sources, including the state and local governments, and sometimes court costs. Judicial salaries are set by the state legislature and are split between local dollars and state dollars. Supreme Court of Ohio justices receive all of their salaries from state dollars; common pleas judges receive most of their salaries from state dollars; and municipal judges receive more than half of their salaries from local funds, and the rest from state funds.
Q: Who pays to build and/or operate local courthouses?
A: Courthouses are paid for through local dollars. If it is a county courthouse or a county-operated municipal courthouse, then the county commissioners appropriate the funds needed to build, repair or operate the facility. Municipal courthouses that are not county operated are funded by the local municipal authority, which is typically the mayor and city council. These same entities pay the salaries of court employees. Some funds to operate the courts may be provided by local court costs.
Q: Who pays for attorneys?
A: Some attorneys are paid for by the private parties that hire counsel to represent them. But in many cases, depending on the charge, attorneys are paid for by the local governments. Some counties have private attorneys that accept court appointments while other counties have public defender offices. Both operate in the same manner and with the same duties owed to the defendant. This appointed counsel will be paid for out of a fund for indigent criminal defendants whose charge or charges include the possibility of imprisonment or jail confinement. If someone has been charged with a criminal offense and is too poor to hire an attorney, then the court will appoint counsel. If a person is charge under a local ordinance, the local government is responsible for providing a fund for persons who are charged with an offense that has a possible jail penalty. If a person is charged under state law, then the county where the charge is filed is responsible for providing a fund for persons who are charged with an offense that includes a possible jail penalty or term of imprisonment. In traffic cases where no confinement is possible, no attorney will be appointed. There is no right to an attorney in civil cases.
Q: Who pays for an attorney that represents the state in a prosecution?
A: The county prosecutor is an elected official and is considered as part of the local government’s executive branch. As a representative of the executive branch, the prosecutor is separate from the courts, which are in the judicial branch of government. Despite representing different branches, the prosecutor, like the courts, is paid by the local government. County prosecutors and their offices are paid for by the county commissioners and city prosecutors are paid for by the municipality.
Q: What are “court costs” and how are they set?
A: Court costs are typically set by statute (written law). Sometimes these costs include amounts set by individual judges to fund special projects in the courts. Court costs are typically a nominal assessment, however, and do not cover the actual expense of operating the courts. Court costs vary from court to court.
Q: Who determines the amount of general funds that are needed to operate a court?
A: Ultimately, funding courts is a cooperative process that involves both the judges and the local funding authorities. Nonetheless, Ohio judges have both the constitutional and statutory responsibility to determine the number of employees, the qualifications of the staff needed to operate the court, and other resources (like security) that are needed to operate a court effectively. Even though the judge decides what it takes to run the court properly, the local funding authorities (county commissioners, members of city council) must appropriate the funds for the court.
Q: What happens if the judge requests more money than the county commissioners or members of city council want to provide?
A: Occasionally disagreements arise. These controversies are usually resolved amicably, but there have been instances where the funding authority has refused to appropriate funds the court has requested. In some of these cases, a court may issue an order requiring the funding authority to appropriate the funds or face a mandamus action in a higher court. Some of these disputes have gone to the Supreme Court of Ohio for review. Since both the Ohio Constitution and the Ohio Revised Code generally support the judges’ authority in funding cases, judges usually win these lawsuits and the local funding authority is forced to pay the amount the judge has requested. Sometimes, however, the local funding authority is able to prove that the judge’s funding request is unreasonable or unnecessary or that the request is an abuse of judicial power.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by the Ohio Judicial Conference.