Thursday, September 21, 2000

County ordered to cough up court cash

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Hamilton County commissioners must obey a county judge's orders and fork over more than $800,000 in unpaid budget funds, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

        The justices' 7-0 decision ends a fiscal standoff between the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners and Probate Court Judge Wayne F. Wilke that began in 1997. The decision orders the commission to pay $179,000 Judge Wilke demanded for his office in 1999 and another $670,000 for the year 2000.

        Records show Judge Wilke requested the money to pay for six new employees and their equipment. The extra manpower was needed, he said, to help erase a 12,000-case backlog.

        When the board refused to pay, Judge Wilke demanded the money via court orders. The board defied those orders, setting up a legal wrangle that went all the way to the state's highest court.

        Mark Elsener, an attorney representing Judge Wilke, said the high court ruling reflects 50 years of prior cases in which judges were allowed to set their own budgets.

        “As long as it is reasonable and necessary,” Mr. Elsener said. “The commissioners cannot treat the courts the same as any other county department.”

        The Supreme Court ruling also orders the commissioners to pay Judge Wilke's legal costs in the case. Mr. Elsener said that would add another $80,000 to the commissioners' bill.


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