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Ohio’s legal system is topped by a state supreme court, with typical venues such as district courts of appeal and county courts of common pleas at the heart of the judicial process. But Ohio also includes at its lowest tier courtroom venues known as “mayor’s courts,” which are not courts of record but can serve a vital purpose in the state legal system by handling lesser cases in the stead of higher courts and judges.
Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court is composed of a chief justice and six associates. It serves as the court of last resort on state constitutional questions, has discretionary jurisdictional influence on issues of “public or great general interest,” and reviews appeals from the Board of Tax Appeals and the Public Utilities Commission. The court also reviews all death sentences handed down in the state, and is the court of original jurisdiction on certain issues, such as writs of mandamus and writs of prohibition. Most of the cases heard by the court are appeals from the state’s 12 district appellate courts.
Chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court is presently Thomas J. Moyer. Justices are elected to six-year terms by the state’s electorate, on a nonpartisan ballot. Two justices are chosen in each of the even-numbered general election years. In years when the office of chief justice is contested, voters will select three justices.
The court convenes in the newly reconstructed Ohio Judicial Center at 65 South Front St. in Columbus.
The Supreme Court maintains an extensive array of information online, including: links to court publications and reports; a database of the court’s opinions; general data and contact information for the clerk of court, administrative director; links related to the court’s library; even an archive of the chief justice’s public speeches. Savvy Web users can even subscribe to Supreme Court RSS feeds and case activity notification services.
Ohio Courts of Appeal
Three-judge panels hear appeals from lower courts in Ohio’s 12 district courts of appeal.The judges are entrusted with appellate review of judgments from common pleas, municipal and county courtrooms and the Board of Tax Appeals. Ohio appellate courts also have original jurisdiction on a small number of cases, namely writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, procedendo, prohibition and quo warranto. The 10th District Court of Appeals in Franklin County also is empowered to hear appeals from the Ohio Court of Claims.
Appellate court districts are divided as follows: First District, based in Cincinnati, serves Hamilton County; the Second District and Seventh District, both based in Youngstown, serve the counties of Belmont, Carroll, Columbiana, Harrison, Jefferson, Mahoning, Monroe and Noble; the geographically large Third District, based in Lima, is responsible for appeals from county courts in Allen, Auglaize, Crawford, Defiance, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Logan, Marion, Mercer, Paulding, Putnam, Seneca, Shelby, Union, Van Wert and Wyandot; the Fourth District, in Chillicothe, covers Adams, Athens, Gallia, Highland, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pickaway, Pike, Ross, Scioto, Vinton, and Washington counties; District Five, in Canton, has jurisdiction over Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas counties; District Six, in Toledo, covers Erie, Fulton, Huron, Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, Williams, and Wood counties; the Eighth District, in Cleveland, serves only Cuyahoga County; the Ninth District, in Akron, serves the counties of Lorain, Medina, Summit and Wayne; the aforementioned 10th District in Columbus serves only Franklin County in addition to its Court of Claims appellate duties; the 11th District, in the city of Warren, serves Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Portage and Trumbull counties; and, the 12th District, in Middletown, serves the counties of Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Fayette, Madison, Preble and Warren.
Court of Appeals judges are elected to six-year terms in even-numbered election years, on nonpartisan ballots.
Ohio's Courts of Common Plea
One step beneath the appeals courts in Ohio are the Courts of Common Pleas, one for each of the state’s 88 counties.
Each Court of Common Pleas is divided into four departments. Its General Division hears civil and criminal cases and most appeals filed over disputed decisions by administrative agencies. The Domestic Relations Division handles divorces and marriage dissolutions, spousal support cases child custody. The Juvenile Division handles most criminal offenses committed by non-adults, and most paternity actions in the state. And, judges in the Probate Division hear cases regarding decedent’s estates, mental illness, marriages, adoptions and various licenses.
The state Supreme Court maintains a list of links to various other courts, including the common pleas courts for each county. The Ohio Judicial Conference, which provides information to the state’s judges and “those who work with them, inside and outside the judiciary,” also maintains a list to trial courts in the state, including the county courts of common pleas.
Ohio Court of Claims
Ohio's Court of Claims is a key court of original jurisdiction, with very specific authority to hear and make determinations on all civil actions filed against the state of Ohio and its agencies. The court also hears appeals of decisions made by the attorney general on claims allowed under the state’s Victims of Crime Act.
The court typically makes decisions on civil claims involving contract disputes, property damage, personal injury, immunity of state officers and employees, discrimination and wrongful imprisonment. The court’s chief justice assigns judges to hear such cases. In most instances, a single judge will review the case, but the chief might assign a panel of three judges to hear civil actions that present unique or complex issues of law and fact.
Civil complaints filed for $2,500 or less are decided by the contents of the case file or “administratively” by the clerk of the court or even a deputy clerk. Appeals of such “administrative determinations” can be taken to a judge of the court upon motion for a court review, but the court’s judgment cannot be the subject of further appeal.
Appeals by crime victims are heard by a panel of three commissioners who are appointed by the state Supreme Court for six-year terms. Further and final appeals from that panel’s decisions can be taken to a judge of the Court of Claims. As in the case of administrative determinations, that judge’s decision on the appeal is considered final.
Lower Courts in Ohio
A number of Ohio cities and each of its 88 counties maintain court systems that are the court of original jurisdiction on misdemeanor offenses, traffic cases, and civil disputes valued at $15,000 or less.
Municipal and county courts also can serve as appellate courts for disputed decisions arising from the state’s Mayor’s Courts. The Mayor’s Courts are not courts of record, but do serve an important purpose by being courts of original jurisdiction for very minor cases such as violations of local ordinance or traffic infractions.
The state Supreme Court maintains a complete list of links to these lower trial courts, organized primarily by, and then by cities within the county. The high court also has a page for information on Mayor’s Courts.
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