Courts

New sheriff’s deputy in town for courthouse security

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Rob Eaton walked into a mess this morning on his first day on the job as director of security for the Wood County Courthouse Complex. “I walked in and there are alarms going off everywhere. I thought – Holy Toledo,” Eaton said this morning. The phones were down because of a system-wide problem with the phone lines, causing the alarms to blare at the courthouse. “It was baptism by fire,” Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said as he introduced Eaton to the county commissioners this morning. The phones were back in service by 8:20 a.m. Eaton has been with the sheriff’s office for 26 years, starting on the corrections staff, moving to road patrol, serving on the Special Response Team, and most recently in the civil division. He also served 14 years in the Army National Guard. Eaton will receive an annual salary of $65,894. He has no plans to change operations in courthouse security, set up under his predecessor Becky Ewing. “I’m looking forward to this challenge of working with everyone,” he said. Since October, the security at the courthouse complex has been divided. The sheriff’s office is in charge of the grounds, buildings and entrances. The court constables, led by Ron Dicus, are in charge of the courtrooms and adult probation. The primary challenge of the job is clear, Eaton said. “Making sure everyone is safe,” from the public to county employees, he said. At the same time, citizens must feel the courthouse complex is a public facility, Wasylyshyn said. “There’s a tough balance between making everyone feel welcome” and making sure they are save, the sheriff said. Also during his meeting with the county commissioners, Wasylyshyn reported that security staff members are now offering fingerprinting in the atrium at the request of the judges. He also mentioned that the security staff is trying to be more visible in the courthouse and county office building. The commissioners acknowledged seeing the staff throughout the complex.

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Crime victims’ rights law in Ohio raises objections

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   In November, Ohioans will vote on Marsy’s Law – a ballot measure intended to strengthen victims’ rights in the state. On the surface, the law seems to offer reasonable protections to crime victims. But on Tuesday, when the Wood County Commissioners were asked to join other officials across the state supporting Marsy’s Law, they heard strong reservations about the law from Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson. Marsy’s Law is named after a California woman who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in the 1980s. A week after her murder, Marsy’s family was confronted in public by her ex-boyfriend, who had been released on bail without the family being notified. Marsy’s brother has made it a mission to get the victims’ rights law passed in states. So far, California, Illinois, South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana have adopted the law, according to Emily Hunter, who is the Northwest Ohio field director for the effort to pass Marsy’s Law in Ohio. The law, Hunter told the Wood County Commissioners, guarantees that victims of crimes are treated as well as the defendants. “This is making them equal to the rights of the accused,” she said. “Right now, we are seeing many victims re-victimized in the system.” Hunter said she herself is a survivor of sexual assault. “I’ve made it my mission to fight.” Marsy’s Law has been endorsed by several elected officials in the state, including the state attorney general, state auditor, several county prosecutors, the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association, mayors and county commissioners. On Tuesday, Hunter asked the Wood County commissioners to add their endorsement to the law. But Dobson, also at the table, cautioned the commissioners. He said in a “close and difficult” vote, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association decided to not support the law. It isn’t that he doesn’t support victims’ rights, Dobson said. “We feel that victims’ rights are very important,” he said. However, Marsy’s Law spells out the rights in the state constitution, “where they essentially can’t be changed.” Marsy’s Law for Ohio grants the following rights: The right to be treated with respect, fairness and dignity throughout the criminal justice process. The right to information about the rights and services available to crime victims. The right to notification in a timely manner of major proceedings and developments in the case. The right to be present at court proceedings and provide input to a prosecutor before a plea deal is struck. The right to be heard at pleas or sentence proceedings or any process that may grant an offender’s release. The right to restitution. The wording of the law is problematic, Dobson said. For example, the law guarantees the right for the victim to be present at court proceedings. That seems reasonable, unless it conflicts with the defendant’s…


‘Coffee with CASAs’ event to inspire volunteers

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The opiate epidemic has reached down into the youngest and most helpless members of Wood County. Just as Wood County Children’s Services is seeing more child abuse and neglect cases, the Wood County CASA program is seeing those growing numbers stretch their volunteers. The numbers have increased so much that some families are being turned away, according to Kathy Hicks, a volunteer member of the Friends of CASA Board. Court Appointed Special Advocates are volunteers who advocate for the needs of children, and act as the voices of children in court, Hicks said. “So the court knows how the child feels,” she explained. “Kids don’t want to tattle on mom or dad.” The CASAs make home visits, speak in court on behalf of the children, and contact doctors, schools or other agencies to try to determine what is in the best interest of the children. The Wood County CASA program, with director Carol Fox, currently has 32 volunteer CASAs who are serving 45 families with a total of 90 children. The growing number of cases has led to about 10 families being turned away so far this year. Much of the increase is due to the opiate epidemic, Hicks said. “It is just amazing to me how many families have this drug problem. It prohibits them from taking care of their children,” she said. “That’s really sad.” The issues are often further complicated by multi-generational opiate problems. “It’s not just the parents. It’s the grandparents,” Hicks said. “Grandma and Grandpa can’t step in because they aren’t clean either.” So the children are often placed with foster families. In order to get more CASA volunteers so more children can be served, a “Coffee with CASAs” event is being held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Grounds for Thought in Bowling Green. Anyone who stops and chats with the CASA volunteers will be given a wooden nickel for a free cup of coffee from Grounds. “We want to get these families the help they need,” Hicks said. Volunteers CASAs will be on hand to explain what it takes to do the job. Volunteers must go through a training program, must pass a screening process, and must have “the desire to help people,” she said. Efforts have been made to streamline the training and volunteers are now allowed to work as a team. “They are in so much need,” Hicks said. Hicks, who previously worked as a CASA volunteer, said the work is difficult but worthwhile. “You can leave with the sense that you’ve helped a family, or put them on the right track,” she said. “It is very rewarding.” “Unfortunately, there’s just not enough to go around anymore,” she said of the volunteers. Anyone interested in the CASA program who cannot attend…


Keeping peace: Courthouse security duties may be divided

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   In order to keep the peace, it appears the duties of securing the Wood County Courthouse Complex may soon be divided. Though the plans have not been finalized, it looks like the current court constables will continue to provide security in the courtrooms, jury rooms, adult probation and domestic relations. However, Wood County Sheriff’s deputies will take over the atrium entry, the county office building, the rest of the courthouse and the grounds. “I have always suspected it was my duty to do that,” Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said about his office providing security. The issue came up last month when Chief Constable Tom Chidester retired after 20 years of his department securing the courthouse complex. The current security program was devised cooperatively by the commissioners, judges, sheriff and other county elected officials in the mid 1990s, when the county was trying to meet the 12 requirements of the Ohio Supreme Court. The court security officers perform several functions like scanning people and packages entering the court complex, standing guard during trials and providing general security functions. But upon Chidester’s departure, Wasylyshyn questioned whether his office should take over the court security role. The county commissioners and judges favored continued use of the court security officers. But Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson said the issue is not whether or not the current court security system is serving the county well. “The question isn’t whether it’s working,” he said. “The question is whether we are following the law.” Wasylyshyn said Dobson was strong in his statement that it is the sheriff’s responsibility to keep peace in the courthouse. Wood County Common Pleas Judge Matt Reger said the proposed division of responsibility is consistent with how Dobson read the requirements. Dobson said Ohio law provides for the courts to have constables and a chief constable if the judges desire in their courtrooms. “The opinion of the judges is we want to keep what we have had in place for 20 years in the courtrooms,” Reger said. But the law also requires the sheriff have charge of the courthouse under the county commissioners, Dobson said. He sees the sharing of duties as “complimentary and not necessarily competing.” However, as of Tuesday, the county commissioners had not been told of the proposal that both the court security and sheriff’s deputies provide security, according to Doris Herringshaw, president of the board of commissioners. “We will wait for their final report,” she said. But Herringshaw added that the commissioners stand by their original stance supporting the existing court security department. Last month in a memo to the judges, sheriff and prosecutor, the commissioners suggested that the current system be retained. “It is a cooperative plan that has served the courts, the courthouse complex, and the citizens of Wood County…


Changing of the guard for courthouse security?

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   After 20 years of securing the Wood County Courthouse, there may be move for changing of the guards. Upon the retirement of Tom Chidester, chief constable at the courthouse complex, a debate began over whose job it actually is to protect the courts. The current security program was devised cooperatively by the commissioners, judges, sheriff and other county elected officials in the mid 1990s, when the county was trying to meet the 12 requirements of the Ohio Supreme Court. A court security office was created and staffed, and now performs several functions like scanning people and packages entering the court complex, standing guard during trials and providing general security functions. But now Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn has questioned whether his office should take over the court security role. The county commissioners, in a memo to the judges, sheriff and prosecutor, suggested that the current system be retained. “It is a cooperative plan that has served the courts, the courthouse complex, and the citizens of Wood County well,” the memo stated. “We are troubled by the premise that we are being asked to undo the work of many previous elected officials, and that the result of our decision, either way, will be disagreement, argument, and animosity where there has been little or none for over two decades,” the commissioners stated. The system was well thought out, has evolved over the years and works very well, the memo continued. Wasylyshn said his only motivation is to ensure that his office is meeting statutory requirements for court security. “The question I’ve had was what are my obligations?” the sheriff said. Wasylyshyn said he posed the question before to the commissioners about a decade ago. A meeting is planned between the judges, county commissioners, prosecutor and sheriff to discuss the matter. “We’re all kind of looking at it,” Wasylyshyn said. “I’m just trying to figure out what my obligations are as sheriff.” A memo from the four county judges, Reeve Kelsey, Alan Mayberry, Dave Woessner and Matthew Reger, appears to support sticking with the current system. “The courts believe there is no reason to change a system that has worked well for more than 20 years,” the judges’ memo stated. The judges stated that the court security office is compliant with the law and is not supplanting any responsibility of the sheriff. “The judges find the current situation to be beneficial to the security of the court and responsive to the needs of the courthouse complex. The judges do not believe that it is incumbent upon the sheriff statutorily to assume the responsibilities of court security.” “The system currently in place is not broke and the judges find no reason to find a fix that is not necessary,” the judges stated. Wood County Prosecutor Paul…


Pipeline to reroute around protesting landowners

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Local landowners who dug in their heels against eminent domain have won the battle to keep a pipeline from crossing their properties. Kinder Morgan, the company building the Utopia pipeline, has filed a motion to give up its appeal of a court order that denied its right to use eminent domain. Instead, the pipeline company has decided to reroute the line. “We are continuing to refine the route to have the least impact from the landowners’ standpoint, from the environmental standpoint,” Allen Fore, vice president of public affairs for Kinder Morgan, said Monday. The exact route of the Utopia pipeline is still being determined, and Fore would not say if the pipeline route was avoiding Wood County all together. However, he did state the new route would steer clear of the Wood County landowners who would not budge in their opposition to the pipeline. The use of eminent domain is the “last resort” for Kinder Morgan, Fore said. In some cases, the company uses it as part of the negotiation process. “That’s not at all unusual,” he said. The pipeline company has 95 percent of the property in Ohio needed for the line through voluntary acquisition, according to Fore. “We’re confident we’re going to get to 100 percent. We’re pleased with where we are with our progress.” “We’ve been successful in finding alternative routes,” Fore said, adding that the new route will be announced “very soon.” Maurice Thompson, of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law which represents 26 Wood County landowners, said it is unclear if the rerouting will just avoid the landowners covered by the court ruling or all of those opposing the pipeline in Wood County. “Everything we’ve heard is their intent is circumventing Wood County entirely,” Thompson said Monday. It has been suggested that Kinder Morgan may be shifting south to use a pre-existing pipeline in Hancock County. “That’s what we’ve argued all along,” Thompson said. “Use existing pipelines instead of taking more land.” Last year, Wood County Common Pleas Judge Robert Pollex ruled that Kinder Morgan does not have the authority to use eminent domain since the Utopia pipeline would be transporting ethane for a private company – not for public use. The ruling came as welcome news to many landowners in Wood County. “They can really put the screws to Ohio landowners” and pay them “unfair low rates,” Thompson said of pipeline companies, if eminent domain is used. Thompson had argued that Utopia did not qualify for eminent domain. Unlike pipelines that are sending gas to supply energy for public consumption, the Utopia pipeline would be sending ethane, a byproduct of the fracking industry, to a private plastics company in Ontario, Canada. Kinder Morgan was planning to start construction last year on the $500 million ethane pipeline…