November 15, 2019

Probation department expands to handle increase in felony indictments

BATAVIA, OH — To handle a rapidly expanding caseload caused primarily by the drug crisis, the Clermont County Common Pleas Court Adult Probation Department has added both space and staff.

On Oct. 23, the Board of County Commissioners authorized the lease of additional office space at 322 E. Main St. in Batavia. Meantime, the department has hired four employees this year to bring its size to 34. Another may be hired next year.

Clermont County saw a 48-percent increase in felony indictments between 2017 and 2018, largely due to drug law violations and other offenses driven by drug addiction. More than half of the cases on probation supervision are from drug law violations. Factor in thefts and other types of property offenses for those stealing to support a habit, and the percentage goes even higher.

“It takes six to 12 months for indictments to catch up to the Probation Department,” said Director Julie Frey, who starts her 30th year with the department in January. “That’s why we’re so desperate for new people and office space. I don’t think people realize the chain of events and how this impacts every part of the criminal justice system.”

The Department’s Justice Reinvestment & Incentive Grant money helped pay for the additional employees. The Department also receives grant funds to help offset employees’ salaries through the Community Corrections Act. Both of the grants, which operate on 2-year cycles, were renewed in July.

Prison overcrowding and research findings that show probation works better and more cost-effectively than incarceration at rehabilitating low-risk felons have contributed to more people being served by the Probation Department.

“The grants are key to keeping up with demand,” Frey said. “I fear demand will continue to increase, and our staff has been working lots of overtime to keep up.”

Judges set conditions, and Probation ensures they’re met. If not, they bring it to the judges’ attention.

The monthly average of pre-trial defendants under the department’s supervision has increased 33 percent to 139 people, said Deputy Director Mary Brock, who also started her career in probation 29 years ago.

If a person enters a guilty plea or is found guilty, Probation conducts a pre-sentence investigation. Clermont County’s Pre-Sentence Investigation Unit has increased from three to five people, and still is overloaded. In 2018, the Department averaged 68 pre-sentence reports a month. The Department has been investigating and preparing 83 per month this year.

Convicted felons usually report to a probation officer in the Supervision Unit a couple of times a month at first. They may earn less-frequent visits as times goes on.  For the most part, people on probation stay on “community control” for three-to-five years.

In 2019, the department has served 1,372 people each month – up from 1,174 during the same period last year.

Probation uses the Ohio Risk Assessment System, which was developed at the University of Cincinnati and is used statewide.

Supervision Unit employees have a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice or a related field. Many have Master’s Degrees. The department’s Community Corrections ACT Grant Program oversees all intensive supervision.  The Intensive Supervision Unit provides intensive supervision for a clientele given a last chance to make it in the community, or go to prison.  It also includes an employment specialist, who has had success at finding people jobs, some with benefits. The program helps ensure that offenders pay child support and avoid prison. Last year, the program helped pull in $365,494 from offenders convicted of criminal non-support.

Some get medication-assisted treatment for opiates. The number of referrals for the treatment continues to grow by 29 per month.

“We have had some good success, especially with the low-risk population,” Frey said. “They’re able to get things together better than most folks.”

April 19, 2019

Ohio Supreme Court Justice French to present check to Common Pleas Court

Justice Judi French

BATAVIA, Ohio (April 19, 2019) — Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French will meet with Clermont County Common Pleas judges on Thursday, April 25, to deliver grant checks from the Supreme Court’s Ohio Courts Technology Grant Fund.

Justice French will present two technology and security grant checks: $40,000 to upgrade video surveillance, and $14,608 for courtroom audio/visual equipment replacement.

When: 2 p.m. Thursday, April 25

Where: Clermont County Common Pleas Court, Judge Richard Ferenc’s courtroom, 2nd floor, 270 E. Main Street, Batavia, Ohio 45103

About Justice French:

Justice French was elected to her first full six-year term in 2014, after being appointed by Gov. John Kasich to fill a vacancy.

Justice French has spent the last two decades in public service.  She has served as an appellate judge, chief legal counsel to the governor, an assistant attorney general, and a state government lawyer.  Her legal experience also includes working as a corporate attorney and in private practice.

The daughter of a schoolteacher, Justice French appreciates her Ohio roots and education, and she is committed to being a part of civic education in Ohio.  She speaks frequently to high school students, particularly those studying the Ohio judicial system.  She serves as a mentor in a local program supporting students in foster care who want to go to college.

Justice French served on the court’s Access to Justice Task Force and continues to be an advocate for granting all Ohioans access to the civil justice system.  Working with legal aid organizations around the state, she encourages lawyers to engage in pro bono activity.

She received three degrees from the Ohio State University: a bachelor’s in political science, a master’s in history and, with honors, her law degree.  In 2018, the OSU Moritz College of Law awarded her the Distinguished Jurist Award for her work on the bench. ####

 

January 15, 2019

Judges McBride, Brock take lead roles for 2019

Judge Jerry McBride

BATAVIA, Ohio (Jan. 15, 2019) – Clermont Common Pleas Judge Jerry McBride has been elected as the administrative judge of the General Division of the Clermont County Common Pleas Court for 2019. The administrative judge has full responsibility and control over the administration, docket, and calendar of the court.

Judge McBride is responsible to the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio in the discharge of the administrative judge’s duties, for the court’s adherence to the Ohio Rules of Superintendence, and for the termination of all cases in the court without undue delay.  Judge McBride was first elected to Common Pleas Court in 1994.

Common Pleas Judge Anthony Brock has been elected presiding judge for 2019, by judges from all divisions of the Clermont County Common Pleas Court system.  As presiding judge, Brock conducts an annual judicial meeting and other meetings as needed to discuss and resolve administrative issues common to all divisions of the court. He may also assign judges, on a temporary basis, to serve in another division of the court if required.

Judge Anthony Brock

Judge Brock also has the authority to appoint members to the Public Defenders Commission, Veterans’ Service Commission, the Law Library Resource Board, the Clermont Metropolitan Housing Authority Board, and the Facility Governing Board for the Multi-County Community Correctional Center. Judge Brock was first elected to Clermont County Common Pleas Court in 2017.

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October 16, 2018

Clermont County Opiate Task Force votes to oppose Issue 1

BATAVIA, Ohio – The Clermont County Opiate Task Force voted to oppose Issue 1 at its meeting on Oct. 11.

The task force is comprised of stakeholders representing county government, agencies and the courts (Commissioners, Clermont County Public Health, Clermont County Mental Health & Recovery Board (MHRB), Municipal Court Probation, Common Pleas Court Probation, Public Defender, Children’s Protective Services, County Sheriff); Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services; Clermont Mercy Hospital; law enforcement and fire/EMS departments; faith-based organizations and private citizens.

The Opiate Task Force’s statement declared: “The Clermont County Opiate Task Force (OTF) firmly believes that individuals with a substance use disorder benefit from treatment, and that recovery is possible. The OTF opposes this constitutional amendment because it does not address the problem as intended. Issue 1 polarizes the relationship between treatment and criminal justice, when in fact criminal justice and treatment work hand in hand to assist individuals with reaching recovery. Issue 1 will hinder the ability of the criminal justice system to work to assure that individuals who need treatment will receive it and maintain it. Along with the Clermont County Commissioners, our criminal justice partners, including the Clermont County Police Chief’s and Sheriff’s Association, and the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities, the OTF implores the Ohio General Assembly to immediately bring together a bipartisan coalition of concerned Ohioans to take action to address the issue of increased treatment services for offenders through a legislative solution, not a constitutional amendment. The OTF strongly encourages all community members to become well informed about Issue 1.”

At the meeting, a panel including Common Pleas Judge Jerry McBride, Assistant Prosecutor Darren Miller, Sheriff Steve Leahy, Commissioners Ed Humphrey and David Painter, and Karen Scherra, Executive Director of MHRB, spoke out against Issue 1 and detailed the impact it would have on the county courts, law enforcement and the County Jail, and taxpayers.

Common Pleas Judge Jerry McBride noted that both Municipal and Common Pleas Court judges work with lesser offenders to get them into treatment instead of jail or prison. “The reality is that less and less F4s and F5s (felony offenders) go to prison every day,” he said. “For years now, the emphasis in drug possession has been on treatment.”

Karen Scherra of the Mental Health & Recovery Board said that although her board is in favor of legislative reforms, it opposes Issue 1. “We do not see treatment increasing under Issue 1,” she said. “It’s often the stick of criminal justice that gets people into treatment.” She noted that her board has worked closely with county partners in criminal justice as well as the Commissioners to come up with initiatives in the battle against the opioid problems in the county. “If this passes we will watch a system that we worked really hard to build up collapse,” she said.

On Oct.3, the Clermont County Commissioners passed a resolution opposing Issue 1.

(This article was revised on Oct. 30, 2018.)

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January 19, 2018

Law Library offers resources for the courts, and for the people

Debbie Smith, left, and Kim Crowthers. Both are longtime veterans of the Law Library.

BATAVIA, Ohio – Tucked into a wing of the Clermont County Common Pleas Courthouse is the Law Library. Its 15,000 legal volumes and online resources are the domain of Director Kim Crowthers and library assistant Debbie Smith.

Not that Crowthers thinks of it as her domain. She is the first to tell you that she and Smith are there to serve their constituents – which include county government and all other jurisdictions within Clermont County – cities, villages and townships – that need legal resources and services. As well as, of course, judges, magistrates, prosecutors and public defenders. And, not least, the public.

“We provide equal access to justice,” Crowthers says. “We provide resources to both public defenders, whose clients are not able to afford an attorney, and the Prosecutor’s Office, allowing for more equal footing. And we provide resources to people who may technically be able to afford an attorney, but in reality can’t.”

The Ohio Revised Code (ORC) requires that every county have a law library, although in small counties it may only be a shelf or two of books. They are typically found at the county courthouse, to ensure easy access for judges, magistrates and lawyers. A law passed in 2010 required that law libraries permit access to the public, but Crowthers said that was a longstanding practice in Clermont County.

The library offers small conference rooms, which are frequently used by public defenders meeting with their clients. Its large conference room often is used for depositions, and for other meetings of a legal nature. “There is total privacy and confidentiality in this room,” she said. “There are no cameras or microphones.”

Helping people

Crowthers and Smith are frequently on the phone or helping people face-to-face, answering questions and directing people to the right place.

“We get a lot of questions from local attorneys  – can you send this specific citation to me, or provide this particular resource,” she said. “Judges will call us or come in if they need to consult the ORC or the rules of professional conduct; or if they need to check on civil or criminal procedures or Ohio jury instructions.”

Richard P. Ferenc, Administrative Judge of Common Pleas Court, acknowledges that the Law Library is crucial to the courts in Clermont County. “For over 80 years the Clermont County Law Library has been an integral partner in our county’s justice system,” he said. “It is the only county library that provides the critical legal resources judges, attorneys, and citizens require to make informed and thorough decisions.

“The library is able to provide these resources and services at a cost significantly lower than could any judge individually,” Judge Ferenc added. “As there are nine judges in the county that the library serves, the savings are indeed substantial.”

As for the general public, the library offers self-help books and legal forms. “We get requests for power of attorney, health care power of attorney, expungement forms. We frequently get requests for specific motions, such as a motion for discovery,” Crowthers said. She and Smith are just as eager to help the public as they are the courts. “We can’t give advice, but we can point them in the right direction,” she said.

The staff prides itself on its user friendliness – in fact, that is in its mission statement. “I have a service-oriented heart,” Crowthers says. “I love being able to help people in as many ways as possible. I fell into the right job.”

Crowthers has worked at the Law Library for 30 years, having begun there part-time after leaving an unsatisfying job in banking. She learned under the tutelage of longtime director Carol Suhre, who retired late last year. Carol, said Judge Ferenc, transformed the library “from what one might call a ‘mom and pop’ operation into a state-of-the-art operation.”

Crowthers became director at the end of 2017, when Suhre retired.

Funded by fees, fines

The county Law Library is funded through a percentage of traffic fines and bond forfeiture fees paid to the county. Funding has declined over the years, Crowthers said, beginning during the recession. The operation is lean; staffing has gone from three to two. The 2018 budget is approximately $300,000, and of that, $170,000 is for legal resources.

All resources in the library are free to the courts and government staff, including copy and faxing services. The library does charge the public and outside attorneys for copy and fax services – although there is no charge for access to the library and its resources.

Even after 30 years, Crowthers’ dedication and enthusiasm for her job – and the mission of the Law Library – has not waned.  And that’s apparent to all who work with her. “I have no doubt that Kim will continue to maintain the outstanding resources and services to the justice system that has become the hallmark of this most important county library,” Judge Ferenc said.

The Clermont County Law Library is open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. It is located at Common Pleas Courthouse, 270 E. Main St., Batavia. Phone: 513.732.7109. #########

December 8, 2017

Judge Ferenc elected administrative judge; Judge McBride is presiding judge

Judge Richard Ferenc

BATAVIA, Ohio (Dec. 8, 2017) — Clermont Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Ferenc has been elected as the administrative judge of the General Division of the Clermont County Common Pleas Court for 2018.

The administrative judge has full responsibility and control over the administration, docket, and calendar of the court.  Judge Ferenc is responsible to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio in the discharge of the administrative judge’s duties, for the court’s adherence to the Ohio Rules of Superintendence, and for the termination of all cases in the court without undue delay.

Judge Ferenc was first elected to Clermont County Common Pleas Court in 2010.

Common Pleas Court Judge Jerry McBride has been elected presiding judge for 2018, by judges from all divisions of the Clermont County Common Pleas Court system.  As presiding judge, Judge McBride conducts an annual judicial meeting, and other meetings, if necessary, to discuss and resolve administrative issues common to all divisions of the court.  He may also assign judges, on a temporary basis, to serve in another division of the court if required.

Judge McBride also has the authority to appoint members to the Public Defenders Commission, Veterans Service Commission, the Law Library Resource Board, the Clermont Metropolitan Housing Authority Board, and the Facility Governing Board for the Multi-County Community Correctional Center.

Judge Jerry McBride

Judge McBride was first elected to Clermont County Common Pleas Court in 1994.

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November 22, 2017

Interested in serving on the Clermont Library Board?

BATAVIA, Ohio (Nov. 22, 2017) — The Clermont County Common Pleas Court is looking for a member of the community to fill a vacancy on the Clermont County Library Board of Trustees. The term of the appointment runs from January 2018 through December 2024.

Trustees must be registered voters in Clermont County, will serve without compensation, and must be able to attend meetings held at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Union Township Library. Those interested should submit a brief resume and a letter stating their interest in becoming a library trustee. Send the resume and letter to Clermont County Common Pleas Court, c/o Court Administrator, 270 East Main Street, Batavia, Ohio 45103. Applications for the position are due by Dec. 6.

With 10 branches throughout the county, the Clermont County Public Library is governed by a seven-member board of trustees appointed by the Board of Clermont County Commissioners and judges of the Common Pleas Court. The board, in turn, hires the library director who implements policies and monitors operations.

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August 10, 2017

Common Pleas Court website wins top award

BATAVIA, Ohio (Aug. 10, 2017) — The new website of the Clermont County Common Pleas Court was recognized as a Top Ten Court Technology Solution by the National Association for Court Management at the NACM’s annual conference in July. The site can be viewed at www.clermontcommonpleas.com.

The NACM awards are presented annually “to recognize courts that make the best use of technology to improve court services and access to the public.” Websites and other court technology projects are judged for their interactive capabilities (e-pay, e-filing, subscriptions, smart forms, etc.); access to public records and other helpful information; user interface (layout, navigation, ease of use, etc.); optimization for mobile services, accessibility, and the “cool” factor.

Clermont County was in rare company: Other jurisdictions that were honored included the Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts; Dubai Commercial Court in UAE; Superior Court of Orange County, California; and the Ministry of Justice in Rwanda.

Senior Magistrate Harold Paddock and webmaster Robert Frost collaborated on the design and content, as the county migrated its website pages to WordPress, a popular blogging and web design software.

The Common Pleas website has easy-to-find information, such as weekly dockets and grand jury reports. “One of our primary goals from both the legal and the software side of the design process was to make most information available with two or at most three clicks from the home page. We think we’ve achieved that,” Mr. Paddock said.

Stephanie Hess, deputy administrative director of the Ohio Supreme Court, accepted the award on behalf of Clermont County at the NACM’s international convention in Washington, D.C. A complete list of award winners is available on the NACM website at https://www.nacmnet.org/sites/default/files/Top_10_Tech_Awards-Press_Release.pdf.

The National Association for Court Management, housed in Williamsburg, Virginia, at the National Center for State Courts, is a membership organization formed in 1985 to help court managers improve their proficiency while working with colleagues to improve the administration of justice. With more than 1,700 members in the United States and several countries, NACM is the largest organization of court management professionals in the world.

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June 14, 2017

Probation Department meets goals, awarded grant

Judge Richard Ferenc

BATAVIA, Ohio (June 14, 2017) – By focusing on treatment for low level felony offenders with opiate addiction, the Clermont County Common Pleas Court Adult Probation Department met goals set by a grant from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) to reduce the number of low-level felons from Clermont County sent to state prisons.

Because it met those goals, the Probation Department has just been awarded an incentive grant of $108,200. In addition, the department was pre-approved for funding of a second two-year cycle of the grant.

Two years ago, the Probation Department was awarded a Probation Improvement and Incentive Grant of $335,803 running from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2017, with three goals set by the ODRC, said Julie Frey, Director of Probation Services for the Common Pleas Court. The goals stemmed from the state’s attempts to reduce prison overcrowding.  The State of Ohio’s prison system currently houses approximately 51,000 inmates but was constructed to hold about 38,000 people.

“State prisons are overcrowded,” Frey said. “Much of this is due to the opiate epidemic in Ohio and the drug-related crimes that come out of it. By placing offenders who present a lower risk of reoffending on community control – better known as probation — we can place them in a treatment program that addresses their addiction and addresses safety concerns for the public as well.

“The goal is to help offenders change their thinking and their behavior, and thereby reduce the likelihood they will reoffend. When this happens, we meet our main goals of keeping the community safe, saving tax dollars, and helping offenders become responsible citizens,” Frey said.

“It’s more expensive to incarcerate someone than to put them on community control where we can closely monitor their conduct,” Frey added. “With community control, a variety of sanctions are imposed, not just treatment. This local control allows us to be more proactive when monitoring any probationer. Such local control benefits the offender and in the end, the community as well.”

The Probation Department met all three goals set by the grant:

  • The department reduced the number of technical probation violators by 10% over the previous two years. Technical violations include such things as a failure to report to the probation officer, or not passing a drug screen, Frey said. Instead of going to prison, they might be given the opportunity to enroll in a treatment program.
  • It reduced the number of Felony 4 and Felony 5 offenders sentenced to prison by 12%. F4 and F5 offenses can include such things as theft, misuse of credit cards, drug abuse, or possession of drugs, Frey said. “Most of these crimes are related to heroin addiction,” she said. “We can help get them into treatment more quickly and we can help pay for some of their medication.”
  • The department referred 178 offenders to assessments for Medication-Assisted Treatment, exceeding the goal of 144.

Frey stressed that the Probation Department makes recommendations to judges on whether an offender should be considered for community control based strictly on sentencing guidelines. “If we feel they are a danger to society, we will recommend incarceration,” she said.

Judge Richard Ferenc, Administrative Judge for Clermont County Common Pleas Court, said that, as the courts have been overwhelmed with drug-related cases, community control is a viable option in certain cases.

“It’s a difficult balance,” he said. “We want to maintain safety for our citizens. We can’t put all of these offenders in jail. We don’t have the space. We can’t put them all in prison. We don’t have the space. If they are low level, not repeat offenders, treatment is important.

“Medication-Assisted Treatment is now available, and that was not available even three years ago,” he said. “We’re seeing Vivitrol and other medications break the cycle of addiction. So far it seems to be working reasonably well.”

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March 15, 2017

12th District Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments in Batavia

BATAVIA, Ohio (March 15, 2017) — The Ohio Twelfth District Court of Appeals, one of 12 courts of appeal in Ohio, will be in Batavia on Tuesday, March 21, to hear oral arguments on two appeals. The arguments will take place at 10:30 a.m. in the courtroom of Judge Jerry R. McBride on the 2nd floor of the Clermont County Common Pleas Courthouse. The arguments are open to the public and will be attended by a class from Milford High School.

The three-judge panel hearing the arguments will consist of Judge Robert P. Ringland, Judge Robert A. Hendrickson and Judge Michael E. Powell. The attorneys arguing the appeals will be available to answer questions from the students after the arguments are finished.

The first case that will be argued is State v. Fridley, Clermont CA2016-06-041. Barry Fridley pled no contest to aggravated vehicular homicide and aggravated vehicular assault in 2015.  In December 2015 he was sentenced to a total of seven years in prison.  He did not appeal immediately but was granted leave to file a delayed appeal in May 2016.  He has raised three assignments of error concerning the denial of a motion to suppress evidence, the imposition of consecutive sentences, and ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

The second case that will be argued is State v. Kaili Fitzgerald, Clermont CA2016-06-041. Kaili Fitzgerald and her husband Michael were both charged with child endangerment due to their infant son’s failure to thrive. Because the court determined that the child suffered serious physical harm, the offense was a 3rd degree felony. Kaili Fitzgerald was convicted and sentenced to five years of community control. She filed an appeal claiming that her conviction was against the manifest weight of the evidence because the evidence did not show that the child suffered serious physical harm.

The Twelfth District Court of Appeals, currently located in the City Building in Middletown, Ohio, reviews cases from Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Fayette, Madison, Preble and Warren counties. The judges of the court currently include Judge Robert P. Ringland, Judge Robert A. Hendrickson, Judge Michael E. Powell, Judge Robin N. Piper and Judge Stephen W. Powell.

For further information:
Gary Scalf
Court Administrator
Clermont County Common Pleas Court
513-732-7394
gscalf@clermontcountyohio.gov