Mayor’s courts: 6 key takeaways from our investigation

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The Dayton Daily News recently investigated mayor’s courts in our region. Mayor’s courts are courts often in small villages where the village mayor can serve as the judge and oversee certain traffic and criminal cases, and hand out fines and even jail sentences.

Here are six key takeaways from our reporting:

1. The numbers. Our investigation found of the 268 mayor’s courts in operation, four in our area rank in the top 10 in the number of citations per 100 residents. North Hampton, a Clark County village of 457 people handled 1,065 new cases last year. The Clark County communities of Tremont City ranks fifth per-capita, and Donnelsville ranks sixth. The Warren County community of Harveysburg ranks seventh.

2. Unusual institutions. Mayor’s courts are somewhat unique. Only Ohio and Louisiana have them.

3. They are also controversial. Critics, such as the ACLU of Ohio, say they are money grabs and speed traps, and give mayors of small villages too much power, including the ability to jail people and levy fines, after only two days of training.

4. Local control. Mayor’s court officials say the courts are professionally run and exist to give villages the ability to maintain law and order with a personal touch. They note many mayor’s courts are presided over by magistrates who are experienced, licensed attorneys.

5. On the ballot. When voters decide whether to disband of the village of Harveysburg in the November election, they will also determine the fate of one of the busiest mayor’s courts, per capita, in Ohio

6. A day in court. A reporter visited the North Hampton Mayor’s Court to observe how cases are handled. He found the village hall and mayor’s court is in an old farmhouse, where a magistrate makes it point to handle justice “with a personal touch.”

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