Cuyahoga County, Ohio, has 41 brands of justice for first-time drunken drivers, one for each of the county’s independent courts, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Some use stiff fines, figuring that pinching the pocketbook is the best way to reach people. Others use driver re-education, counseling to find alcoholic tendencies and treat them. Of the 41 courts, 28 are mayor’s courts that serve only the cities where they are located. The 13 others are municipal courts, many serving several jurisdictions. Municipal courts tend to be more consistent than mayor’s courts, which, until last year, were accountable to no one.
Starting last year, state law required mayor’s courts to report all case outcomes to the Ohio Supreme Court. The law was passed after criticism by a commission looking at the future of Ohio’s court system. The commission called for mayor’s courts to be replaced by courts where legally trained staff, rather than mayors, would deal with cases. The Plain Dealer, reviewing statistics and cases for courts in the county in 2004, found that mayor’s courts were inconsistent in their handling of drunken drivers: The Independence court reduced the charges in more than a third of the city’s 82 drunken-driving cases but required drivers to undergo alcohol assessments. The Strongsville court reduced almost a quarter of its 159 DUI cases, but nearly two-thirds of the drivers pleaded guilty as charged. The Middleburg Heights court didn’t take a single not-guilty plea on its 234 cases. People who wanted to argue their cases or try to get charges reduced were sent down the road to another court.