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Daily Court Reporter - News Probate judge blocked from taking control of courtroom


Probate judge blocked from taking control of courtroom

Dan Trevas, Supreme Court of Ohio

Greene County’s probate judge cannot force the county to designate that a courtroom be reserved exclusively for probate cases three days a week, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled recently.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that Judge Thomas O’Diam cannot issue an order to have exclusive use of Courtroom 3 in the Greene County Courthouse when the common pleas court general division judges already have control of the courtroom and object to O’Diam’s directives. In granting the Greene County Board of Commissioners’ request to block Judge O’Diam’s orders, the Court’s per curiam opinion noted that while in prior cases judges have been authorized to wrest courthouse space from other “administrative offices,” this is the first time the Court addressed conflicting space requests from separate, but equal judicial officers.

“We hold that a judge does not have inherent authority — and thereby lacks jurisdiction — to issue an order allowing him to take control of courthouse space when the space is already under the control of another court, or a different division of the common-pleas court,” the opinion stated.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, and Melody J. Stewart joined the majority opinion. Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Michael P. Donnelly concurred in part and dissented in part without written opinions.

Judge Seeks More Space

Judge O’Diam engaged in a year-long effort to persuade the county commissioners and the two general division common pleas court judges that the probate court needed a full-sized courtroom dedicated to its proceedings. When the effort failed in March 2018, Judge O’Diam issued an order directing the commissioners to designate Courtroom 3 as the permanent probate courtroom with exclusive use by the probate court three days a week. The judge also ordered the commissioners to pay legal fees and expenses arising from any disputes.

The next day, the general-division judges issued an order expressing their intent “to maintain sole and exclusive management” of the lower area of the courthouse where Courtroom 3 is located.

The county commissioners met shortly after and voted to use county funds to construct office space and a courtroom for the probate court in the Juvenile Justice Center building, located about two miles west of the county courthouse.

The following week, Judge O’Diam declared the commissioners’ decision void and prevented the commissioners from taking any further action on it. Two days later, the commissioners sought a writ of prohibition from the Ohio Supreme Court to prevent Judge O’Diam from taking any action on his exclusive use of the courthouse courtroom and from issuing any further orders on the matter.

Court Considering Competing Requests

Less than two weeks after the commissioners sought the writ of prohibition, Judge O’Diam asked the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to compel the commissioners to follow his order and pay the legal costs. He also asked the Court to dismiss the commissioner’s complaint. The Court today ruled only on the commissioners’ request.

Citing its 2000 State ex rel. Wilke v. Hamilton Cty. Bd. of Commrs. decision, the Court majority agreed with Judge O’Diam’s position that common pleas courts and their divisions have the authority to order funding that is “reasonable and necessary to the court’s administration of its business.” However, in all prior cases decided by the Court over competing spaces issues, the Court allowed local judges to take courthouse space used by county administrative offices such as the school superintendent, auditor, and recorder.

The county commission argued that if it is to obey Judge O’Diam’s order it would have to disregard the simultaneous order of the two general division judges to maintain control of Courtroom 3. The opinion noted that Judge O’Diam cannot claim his authority supersedes the authority of the general division judges, and the general division judges cannot argue their orders supersede Judge O’Diam’s orders. Because the general-division judges currently control Courtroom 3, Judge O’Diam “acted beyond his authority” by ordering the courtroom’s use for probate court, the Court concluded.

Legal Fees Not Disputed in Case

The Court noted the county commissioners did not contest Judge O’Diam’s directive that they pay the legal fees in the dispute. However, the commissioners have filed objections to making the payments in the writ of mandamus case. The Court indicated it will address the legal fee dispute when it addresses the other case.

The opinion can be read online at:

2018-0399. State ex rel. Greene Cty. Bd. of Commrs. v. O’Diam, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-1676.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

About the Supreme Court of Ohio

The Supreme Court is established by Article IV, Section 1 of the Ohio Constitution. Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution sets the size of the Court and outlines its jurisdiction. Article IV, Section 5 of the Constitution grants rule making and other authority to the Court.

The Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Ohio. Most of its cases are appeals from the 12 district courts of appeals. The Court may grant leave to appeal felony cases from the courts of appeals and may direct a court of appeals to certify its record in any civil or misdemeanor case that the Court finds to be "of public or great general interest."

The Supreme Court also has appellate jurisdiction in cases involving questions arising under the Ohio or United States Constitutions, cases originating in the courts of appeals, and cases in which there have been conflicting opinions on the same question from two or more courts of appeals. The Supreme Court hears all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed. These cases currently include both appeals from courts of appeals affirming imposition of the death penalty by a trial court and, for capital crimes committed on or after Jan. 1, 1995, appeals taken directly from the trial courts. Finally, the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction extends to review of the actions of certain administrative agencies, including the Public Utilities Commission.

The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction to issue extraordinary writs. These include writs of habeas corpus (inquiring into the cause of an allegedly unlawful imprisonment or deprivation of custody), writs of mandamus (ordering a public official to perform a required act), writs of procedendo (compelling a lower court to proceed to judgment in a case), writs of prohibition (ordering a lower court to stop abusing or usurping judicial functions), and writs of quo warranto (issued against a person or corporation for usurpation, misuse, or abuse of public office or corporate office or franchise).

The Constitution grants the Supreme Court exclusive authority to regulate admission to the practice of law, the discipline of attorneys admitted to practice, and all other matters relating to the practice of law. In connection with this grant of authority, the Supreme Court has promulgated the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio. These rules address, among other things, admission to practice, attorney discipline, attorney registration, continuing legal education, and unauthorized practice of law.

The Constitution also gives the Supreme Court authority to prescribe rules governing practice and procedure in all courts of the state and to exercise general superintendence over all state courts. Procedural rules promulgated by the Supreme Court become effective unless both houses of the General Assembly adopt a concurrent resolution of disapproval. Rules of superintendence over state courts set minimum standards for court administration. Unlike procedural rules, rules of superintendence do not have to be submitted to the General Assembly to become effective.

In connection with all of the rules for which it has responsibility, the Supreme Court generally solicits public comment before adopting new rules or amendments in final form. The Court first publishes its rules and amendments in proposed form. These proposals appear in both the Ohio State Bar Association Reports and the Ohio Official Advance Sheets and indicate the period open for comment and the staff member to whom comments should be directed. The Court reviews all comments submitted before it decides whether to adopt or amend a rule.

Pursuant to the Constitution, the Chief Justice or a Justice designated by the Chief Justice is responsible for ruling on the disqualification of appellate and common pleas court judges. The procedure for obtaining review of a claim of disqualification against an appellate or common pleas judge is commenced by the filing of an affidavit of disqualification with the Clerk of the Supreme Court. The Revised Code contains specific requirements governing the filing of affidavits of disqualification.

Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution sets the size of the Court at seven -- a Chief Justice and six Justices, who are elected to six-year terms on a nonpartisan ballot. Two Justices are chosen at the general election in even-numbered years. In the year when the Chief Justice runs, voters pick three members of the Court.

A person must be an attorney with at least six years experience in the practice of law to be elected or appointed to the Supreme Court. Appointments are made by the Governor for vacancies that may occur between elections.

Date Published: June 3, 2019


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