Judge O’Brien waiting for new court

A lengthy death penalty trial, complete with expert witnesses and automatic appeals, seems lightyears faster than a decision on fixing Sandusky’s rundown courthouse.
Andy Ouriel
Nov 4, 2013
Sandusky Municipal Court Judge Erich O’Brien still awaits a decision from city commissioners as to whether they’ll stay or leave their governmental headquarters.

In January, O’Brien gave commissioners a six-month ultimatum to make a decision on City Hall, located at 222 Meigs St..

But commissioners haven’t engaged in serious public discussions about City Hall’s fate since then, let alone make any decisions regarding the 60-year-old facility.

During a recent Register debate, an audience member asked about City Hall’s future and how all seven city commission candidates view the facility’s long-term viability.

The Register then tossed the question to O’Brien in hopes of receiving an update.

But he really doesn’t have one.

O’Brien, the municipal court judge since 1996, wants to know whether to invest money so he can fix his dilapidated courthouse or save funds if commissioners plan to move elsewhere.

As evidence for a new or revamped courthouse, O’Brien pointed to:

• A poor floor plan, consisting of court offices scattered and not connected inside City Hall.

• Sharing his office with a bailiff — which might be the only case of such a collaboration in Ohio.

• Poor security, including few measures in place to protect workers from possibly agitated people who attend or appear for court hearings.

O’Brien, however, said he’s not disappointed nor discouraged about commissioners seemingly forgetting about him.

“We are waiting on who gets in,” said O’Brien, referencing Tuesday’s election in which two of the seven incumbent commissioners are seeking additional terms. “We will see who is in. After the dust settles, it’s time to go, ‘OK guys, what are we doing?’”

Earlier this year, O’Brien — who oversaw about 15,000 cases in 2012 — vowed to contribute at least $1.85 million of his own court budget for an updated courthouse, be it new or refurbished.

The judge stashed away surplus money from years past, sparing taxpayers from fronting any additional money for this project.

As a comparison, Erie County Municipal Court Judge Paul Lux spent $1.7 million earlier this year for a revamped courthouse on Mason Road West in Milan Township.

O’Brien expects — or more accurately, hopes — a decision about his courthouse to occur soon.

“I can only be on the bench for 12 more years,” O’Brien said. “It would be nice to get a new facility sometime before that’s over.”