PDT Staff Writer
The expenses incurred during the renovation of the district office of newly-elected Fourth District Court of Appeals Judge Marie Hoover will be divided by all 14 counts in the Fourth District, based on the populations of each county with Scioto being the largest.
On Thursday Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine issued an opinion sought by Scioto County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn, based on three questions. Are the repair and renovation expenses a liability of all 14 counties of the Fourth District, to be divided proportionately among the counties of the district, or solely an expense to be borne by Scioto County? What effect does R.C. 153.36, which governs the approval of plans for the building, addition to, alteration, repair, or improvement of a courthouse, have on the payment of the expenses insurred for the repairs and renovations of the judges’ offices? If the expenses are to be shared proportionately among all 14 counties, what entity has the authority to determine which expenses are appropriate?
“The AG’s office wants to use a broad reading of the phrase - ‘expenses of operating the court,’” the ruling reads.
Hoover reviewed the ruling with the Daily Times.
“They (Attorney General’s office) are saying that the permanent improvement expenses to this office here, can be considered expenses of operating the court,” Hoover said as she sat in her office reading the opinion. “Which, in turn, makes it chargeable to the 14 counties, instead of just Scioto County. The 14 counties then bears that proportionately according to their population. Scioto County is the most populous of all the 14 counties. So, of course, we will bear the most of the expenses.”
The original question arose when Hoover moved into the former Scioto County Prosecutor’s Office and immediately began renovations, which she now says totals some $38,000. The question was whether the expenses should be borne by Scioto County because the office and the equipment in the office are in Scioto County, or whether it is considered a district office. The AG’s opinion was the latter.
“What it sounds like is that the AG’s office is saying is that anything that the court deems appropriate and reasonable to operate its court is considered expenses of operating the court,” Hoover said.
In answering the other two questions DeWine said R.C. 153.36, alone, does not affect the payment of the expenses incurred for the repairs and renovations made to office space is a county courthouse that is used by the court of appeals judge. The expense shall be allocated in accordance with R.C. 2501.181(D). And, A court of appeals has the authority to determine whether a repair or renovation of office space used by a court of appeals judge is appropriate; however, that determination must be made reasonably and the repair or renovation must be necessary and essential to the efficient operation of the court.
Hoover said the layout of the office prior to her moving in would not suit her needs nor the needs of her staff.
“I don’t know that the space could have been utilized much the way it was,” Hoover said.
Since Hoover moved into those offices, Kuhn and his staff have moved their operation across the street in the courthouse annex.
Another person involved in the controversy was Fourth District Court of Appeals Judge Matthew McFarland, whose office had suffered water damage from a damaged roof, and who became a part of Kuhn’s request.
“Meanwhile, during the removal and installation of the new roof on the Scioto County Courthouse, water damage was caused to the office of Judge Matthew McFarland. Damages were caused to the ceiling, walls, carpets, equipment and furniture,” Kuhn stated. “Due to the damages, Judge McFarland was forced to relocate he office to the basement suite of the courthouse annex located across the street from the Scioto County Courthouse; thus, requiring Scioto County to incur additional rental expenses for the operation of Judge McFarland’s office while the repairs are made to the Judge’s former office. The repairs have not been completed at present date.”
With that paragraph, Kuhn asked if any of the expenses may be chargeable to the 14 counties. DeWine concluded - “The repairs that the county anticipates completing for Judge B’s (McFarland) office constitute, at a minimum, ‘repairs’ to the courthouse to return the office space to a sound state. Therefore, it is clear that the mandatory provisions of R.C. 153.36 apply to the repairs and renovations of Judge A’s (Hoover) and Judge B’s offices.”
Another opinion was that the contracts for such work would have needed to have been bidded out, which they were not.
“The AG’s opinion says - the courts will not undo a project to require compliance after the fact,” Hoover said. “I think, in normal language, they are not going to make you put it back the way it was.”
Hoover said she attempted to save the county as much money as possible in renovating the office, by even doing some of the work herself.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.