Judges order review of Clark County Clerk of Court’s Office in ongoing dispute

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Three Clark County judges have ordered a review of the Clark County clerk of courts office.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Clark County’s Common Pleas Court Judges have ordered a review of the county clerk’s office after they said the clerk has failed to perform her duties and did not comply with previous court rules.

Common Pleas Court Judges Douglas Rastatter, Richard O'Neill and Thomas Capper jointly filed three separate orders in June complaining of repeated delays in the filing of court documents and other concerns. The new orders filed in Clark County Common Pleas Court Friday state Clerk Melissa Tuttle has failed to resolve those issues.

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“The court is seeking remedial action in order to obtain a functioning clerk’s office in compliance with applicable law and court rules,” said Dan Harkins, a Springfield attorney representing the judges in the case.

Tuttle said she met with the judges in mediation in August to address their concerns, but said Monday there has been no communication between the sides since. She also said the judge’s latest orders do not point to any specific cases of concern, and she believes her office has been efficient in its handling of court documents.

“I need communication with them and my only communication in the past month has been this most recent order,” Tuttle said.

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The judge’s orders late last week also point to an incident on Sept. 14 in which an unnamed person used Tuttle’s username and password to access court software, restricting use of the system by the judges, magistrates and staff.

“Such action impeded the administration of justice,” the orders state. “It is the finding of this court that the reoccurring delays by the clerk are unreasonable and must immediately be remedied, in order to promote the administration of justice in Clark County, Ohio.”

Harkins said that incident was one factor triggering the latest orders. He said the judges had to contact Clark County officials after losing access to the system and information technology staff had to try to restore access.

“The court has had ongoing concerns and this additional action propelled the court to take immediate action last week,” Harkins said.

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Tuttle said Monday there has been a dispute over who is in control of the CourtView program. The software serves as a case management system for the court, and as clerk, she has the authority to manage the court’s records. She said previously the system allowed the court’s staff to make changes to files in the system, including potentially deleting records. Tuttle said she restricted access to some functions in the software, but said none of those changes would have impacted the court’s ability to function.

Tuttle said she has been expecting new orders from the judges despite uncertainty over which cases or issues specifically needed to be addressed.

“My personal feeling was I was just waiting for my next order,” Tuttle said of their previous meeting.

The Clark County commissioners declined to weigh in on the issue Monday.

“The Board of Clark County commissioners and its information systems department fully complied with the court order, but declined to comment further on the matter,” said Michael Cooper, Clark County spokesman.

The court’s orders appoint Guy Ferguson, Clark County municipal clerk of courts, to review Tuttle’s office from Jan. 1 of this year to present to determine whether her office has complied with court rules. It also asks Ferguson to submit a report and propose a plan of correction for any deficiencies discovered. Tuttle would also have the ability to review and comment on the plan. Costs for the review would be paid for from the court’s special project fund, according to the order.

The order also states funds that were previously directed to the clerk’s offices be redirected into the Common Pleas Special Project Fund and the Domestic Relations Judicial Fund Fees, Fines and Forfeitures fund.

The court’s orders also require Tuttle’s office to remain open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day the court is in session, promptly update the court’s docket and prohibits Tuttle and her staff from accessing administrative functions in CourtView.

Tuttle said Monday she would accept a review of her office, but argued another entity should conduct the review.

“We need an unbiased review of the office,” Tuttle said. “With all due respect to Guy Ferguson, I think it should be conducted by the Ohio Supreme Court or the Auditor of the State,” Tuttle said.

Harkins said the goal is for Ferguson’s office to complete the review quickly, but thoroughly.

The Springfield News-Sun will continue to provide unmatched coverage of crime and the judicial system in Clark and Champaign Counties. The paper has previously reported on ongoing discussions between the Clark County clerk of courts and three common pleas court judges over how the clerk’s office is functioning. For this story, the paper explained what the judge’s latest orders will mean for both sides.

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