By BRIAN BOHNERT
Judge Mark Repp spoke Monday on the newly-created Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court, offering a glimpse behind the curtain at what brought the two neighboring communities together for a more comprehensive justice system.
During Monday afternoon’s meeting of Fostoria Rotary Club, Repp gave an update on the recently-merged court, providing insight into how the court came to be and where he looks for it to head in the future.
Repp opened his presentation by explaining why the merger made sense, citing small caseloads in both courts and high expenditures.
“Both of the communities over the last few years have suffered,” Repp said. “We’ve lost population; we’ve lost industry; and, I think the better minds started thinking ‘what could we do to kind of make the courts’ operations more efficient?'”
To do so, Repp said state and local lawmakers examined each court’s caseload and determined both Tiffin and Fostoria’s courts fell well below the state municipal court average or roughly 12,000 cases per judge per year.
Over the last five to eight years, Repp said Fostoria Municipal Court has tried roughly 3,000-3,500 cases annually, including traffic, criminal, small claims and civil cases. Throughout the same period of time, Tiffin Municipal Court had approximately 6,000 cases per year.
With smaller caseloads yielding fewer fines and court costs coming in, he said high operating expenses have run Fostoria “in the red” for the last 10 years. The damage: anywhere from $80,000-$100,000.
“Fostoria cannot be ignored,” Repp said. “There’s a lot of good things. Many, many good things going on here in Fostoria. I want to accentuate those good things. We’re not going to get to the point where there’s going to be no court in Fostoria … But in the same respect, is there enough for a full-time court? Probably not.”
In an effort to provide savings to both cities, House Bill 141 was created. In exchange for the city of Fostoria providing space, heating, phones and accessories, Repp said the city of Tiffin serves as the funding authority for the merged court. More cases will increase the number of costs that will, in return, offset operational expenses.
“That additional volume means additional court costs that will flow towards the expense of operating the court,” he said.
Over the last 10 years, Repp said the uncollected fines and costs in Fostoria were about $750,000 with a collection rate in the 40 percent range. Throughout the last decade, he said the collection rate in Tiffin Municipal Court has bounced between 70 and 75 percent.
To boost the collection rate in Fostoria, Repp said he took a page out of an Ottawa County judge’s playbook by implementing “ability to pay” days. One day each month, he said anyone who owes a fine through the court will be able to come in and explain why he or she hasn’t made a payment.
House Bill 141 passed the floor of the Ohio House of Representatives May 22 by a vote of 92-1. The legislation merging the courts of Fostoria and Tiffin passed unanimously through the Ohio Senate May 30.
A “pro se” approach
One aspect of the legal process Repp said he has always been passionate about is the “pro se” approach, or the right for individuals to represent themselves in legal matters.
Upon becoming judge in Tiffin, Repp said he had the idea to create a set of helpful forms and literature for landlords and small business owners to handle some legal issues on their own.
Repp said all forms are straight forward and simple, and they come with booklets explaining the procedures for each type of legal action, such as evicting a tenant, collecting on accounts or enforcing contracts and agreements.
“It’s really important to me that individuals are given the right to represent themselves,” he said. “… I do believe that if you own a duplex and somebody isn’t paying their rent, I think it almost adds insult to injury that you would have to go hire an attorney and be required to hire an attorney for $300 or $500 to evict that individual as opposed to being able to do it yourself.”
How it works
The schedule for Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court works as such: on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Repp and his staff preside in Tiffin. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Repp presides over cases in Fostoria. In addition, all cases filed in the Fostoria area remain in Fostoria and all cases filed in the Tiffin area remain in Tiffin.
“If you get pulled over and get a speeding ticket in Loudon Township, guess where that ticket is going to get filed? Here in Fostoria,” he said. “If you’re over in Hopewell Township and you get that same speeding ticket, it goes to Tiffin.”
Jury trials are conducted on Wednesdays in Tiffin while Thursdays are reserved as “jury days” in Fostoria. Cases can also be transferred between Fostoria and Tiffin with consent of the prosecution, he said.
All fines and court costs from Fostoria cases will remain in Fostoria just as it ordinarily had.
Creating a community
Stepping in to his job as the newly-elected judge of Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court, Repp said his long-term goal is to evaluate each city not individually, but as a joined community.
“I don’t want to look at things as a Tiffin issue or a Fostoria issue,” he said. “I want to look at it as a community issue. A community as a whole.”
Repp also said neither he nor his staff are receiving any additional money from the merger.
“In the last two years … I could have taken additional money from the state and from the city, but I didn’t do that,” he said. “Because I know Fostoria really doesn’t need that right now. The city government is readjusting. They need to get their feet on the ground. We need to see how this is going to work out. And, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
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