Thursday, July 15, 2004

Mason v. judge: Ouster debated

Parker fires back at his critics

By Erica Solvig and Janice Morse
Enquirer staff writers

• Municipal Judge George Parker had his bailiffs arrest Mason Police Chief Ron Ferrell in May 2003 after Ferrell rejected a judge's order to deliver an inmate from the Warren County jail in Lebanon. Ferrell argued that the police department does not have enough staff to be a transport service. City council's court liaison committee helped mediate the situation, and found Parker was right in thinking that police were required to transport all prisoners to his court because they had signed documents that made officers bailiffs of the court. The misdemeanor charges against Ferrell were dropped and the city has since given the court a car to use.

• In July 2003, Parker ordered police to stake out a felony theft suspect's residence in Green Township so she wouldn't skip bail. Police officials were critical of the order since the home was 30 miles away and took beat officers off Mason's streets.

• The court and city council have been at odds over court staffing. . Some council members have criticized the judge for spending too much.

• In early 2003, court and city officials noticed a dramatic decline in tickets written by Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers on Mason and Deerfield Township roads. Patrol officials rejected suggestions of a slowdown, but court staff suggested they stopped writing tickets after changes in court scheduling cost the officers overtime pay.

MASON - Council members who say a growing number of people want to oust Municipal Judge George Parker are seeking alternatives to head off a "bloody, mudslinging fight," such as asking state lawmakers to disband the court.

Council's three-member court liaison committee, created about two years ago to mediate between the city and the court, agreed Wednesday to research whether a mayor's court or a countywide court system would be better than the current legal system Mason uses.

Such changes would have to be made by the Ohio legislature since it established the current system, according to city officials. But the seven-member city council could make an official recommendation and initiate the idea.

Parker has stirred up reaction with everything from staffing moves opposed by council to court rules he's imposed that police say divert them from patrol to time-consuming court hearings. Last year, he had Mason's police chief arrested after a dispute over transportation of a prisoner.

"It's not single-issue-oriented at this point," Councilman Victor Kidd said during a meeting Wednesday at Law Director Ken Schneider's downtown office.

"There's a lot of ill will and hostility. It isn't getting any better. It brings up the question, what do we have left to do?"

Kidd wants to avoid what he called a "bloody, mudslinging fight" that would ensue if residents follow through on talk of filing a petition for Parker's removal with Warren County Common Pleas Court. The legal process for removal would be lengthy and would embarrass both the city and Parker's family, Kidd said.

Parker, who could not attend the meeting, said he is a "well-respected member of the judiciary" who has not been "accused of doing anything inappropriately."

"I don't want to make any rushes to judgment about anything," Parker said. "I think if government is going to be effective, we have to continue to explore ways of doing it better. But the other side of it is, before people start carrying on, they better have a good idea what they're talking about instead of rumors or innuendo or hurt feelings. ... When you get something second-hand, it has the hallmark of unreliability."

Parker defeated three fellow Republicans in the May 2001 primary and ran unopposed in the November 2001 election. He took over a seat that David Batsche had occupied for more than 30 years.

The court, which serves more than 50,000 residents in Mason and Deerfield Township, handles misdemeanor criminal and traffic cases, initial hearings for felony offenders and low-level civil complaints.

State Rep. Tom Raga, R-Mason, said Wednesday he had not been approached about disbanding the court. Deerfield Township Trustee Randy Kuvin said he was unaware of any such movement.

Talks of a possible recall began heating up in recent weeks after Parker issued a rule requiring police officers to attend all court hearings without a subpoena. That rule has since been removed.

The liaison committee will discuss what happens next with full council at a work session.

In the meantime, council members will be researching their options.

Since Parker had enough support to get elected, Councilman Tom Grossmann suggested one compromise might be to participate in a countywide court system in which Parker could serve as a judge.

In that scenario, Parker would not be dealing with issues involving just Mason, but other jurisdictions as well.

But Councilman Tony Bradburn disagreed, saying that would only "reward the misconduct and malfeasance" he's heard about.

. Parker said he has done nothing wrong.

"If doing my job causes people to have ill will about me ... I doubt there's anything I could do to change that," Parker said. "The only thing I can do is my job."

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