Q: I have been told to appear in mayor’s court. What is a mayor’s court?
A: A mayor’s court handles misdemeanors and traffic violations in Ohio communities with no municipal court of record and populations of more than 200 people. Mayor’s court hearings are held before the mayor or a magistrate. Cases are handled locally and some mayor’s courts are held in the evening for the convenience of the parties. Most mayor’s courts employ magistrates, who are lawyers, rather than to have the mayor actually decide cases. The magistrate must be a lawyer with at least three years of experience.
Q: What are some advantages and disadvantages of having a case heard in a mayor’s court?
A: An advantage to having a case heard in a mayor’s court is that the hearings are more informal and conveniently located than municipal court, although the defendant still has access to a public defender and translator if needed. Hearings are often held in the evenings so that people don’t have to miss work to appear. Mayor’s courts impose similar penalties as municipal courts, including fines and jail time.
Some people believe that mayor’s courts are more open to abuse than municipal courts. The Ohio legislature has previously considered abolishing mayor’s courts. Those in favor of eliminating mayor’s courts contend that many mayors are unqualified to hear cases. They also cite instances of corruption among mayors, including the imposition of large fines in order to bolster the community’s coffers, and especially the reduction of drunk driving claims to lesser offenses in return for large fines. Attempts to abolish mayor’s courts have not yet been successful, but the population requirement was increased in 2013 to permit mayor's courts only in villages that have more than 200 people and do not have a municipal court. Every mayor's court must file quarterly reports with the Supreme Court of Ohio
Q: Do mayor’s courts have jurisdiction over drunk driving?
A: Yes, the mayor or magistrate has jurisdiction over OVI (drunk driving) cases as long as the defendant has not previously been charged, convicted, or pleaded guilty to a similar offense within the prior six years. The mayor or magistrate with proper training also has jurisdiction in cases alleging driving under OVI suspension or “FRA” suspension (for failure to carry auto insurance indicating financially responsibility).
Q: What other types of cases can a mayor hear?
A: A mayor or magistrate sitting in mayor’s court generally hears cases involving violations of municipal ordinances, including parking, standing and moving vehicle violations.
Q: What types of cases can a mayor’s court not hear?
A: The mayor’s court cannot hear cases involving suspected kidnapping, domestic violence, more serious assault charges, aggravated trespass cases, and violation of protective orders (even if they are charged as misdemeanors). The court also has no jurisdiction over felony cases of any type.
Q: If I am unhappy with the outcome at mayor’s court, what can I do?
A: You must file a notice of appeal with the mayor’s court within ten days of the judgment. Your case then will be transferred to the municipal court or county court in your county and will be heard by a judge. The judge will not consider the previous decision of the mayor’s court when hearing your case.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky attorney Paul Croushore, an author for Moore's Federal Practice.