Norwalk judge won’t answer questions about his practices

Municipal Court judge John Ridge said he won’t answer questions about how he treats poor people who appear in his courtroom, or comment on the ACLU's contention that the Ohio judicial system is creating 'debtors' prison'
Tom Jackson
Apr 11, 2013

The judge, via a spokeswoman, sent word Tuesday that he won’t discuss the matter because it’s possible he’ll have to face litigation. Ridge retired Dec. 31, so he’s now a retired interim judge who’s just filling in.

Ridge and another local judge, Sandusky Municipal Court judge Erich O’Brien, were both criticized last week by the Ohio ACLU, which said neither judge is following the law when they send defendants to jail for failure to pay their fines after they’ve been convicted. 

The ACLU said judges can send defendants to jail for not paying fines, but only after holding an on-the-record hearing on the issue, with a defendant’s attorney present, to determine if the defendant ignored the obligation or just didn’t have the money.

The ACLU claims neither judge has been having such hearings.

There’s a sharp contrast in how the two judges have responded to the ACLU.

O’Brien answered questions on the matter Monday, and he said he’ll answer more questions when he gets a chance to study the issue. In the meantime, he said he has halted arrests on warrants for people who fail to pay fines.

The Register left a message for Ridge, asking if he would answer questions or schedule an interview to respond to the ACLU’s concerns. An employee at Norwalk’s municipal court returned the call and said, “Based upon potential litigation in this matter, the judge won’t make a comment.”

The ACLU’s letter to Norwalk Municipal Court, addressed to Ridge and court clerk Pamela Boss, raised the possibility of litigation.

“It is our sincere hope that we can avoid instituting litigation over these issues. Accordingly, we urge you to take corrective action expeditiously,” ACLU of Ohio executive director Christina Link and two other ACLU officials stated in the letter. 

Boss, reached by the Register last week, said she doesn’t set policy — she does what Ridge tells her to do.

Norwalk law director Stuart O’Hara Jr. wrote to the Ohio ACLU on April 5, explaining that the office of municipal judge in Norwalk is vacant because Ridge retired in December. Retired judges are filling in until Gov. John Kasich names a replacement, O’Hara wrote.

It’s Norwalk’s policy to comply with the law, O’Hara wrote. Once a new judge is named, “this matter and your letter will be brought to his or her attention for formal action,” he wrote.

The governor’s office has interviewed three candidates for the judge position, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said.

The Ohio ACLU has scheduled an April 18 meeting with Maureen O’Connor, chief justice of Ohio’s Supreme Court, to discuss the ACLU’s concerns over the “debtor’s prisons” issue and whether state judges are following the law when they send poor people to jail for failure to pay fines.

O’Connor has promised to meet with the ACLU about the issue, and she has followed up on that promise by scheduling the meeting, said Mike Brickner, ACLUS Ohio’s director of communications and public policy.

Comments

JohnDorian12

Nah let us continue to pay for these people!! Just becuz they refuse to pay their bills, bills THEY created they shouldn't have to answer for that, should they?? This is laughable almost as laughable as the ACLU....

Concerned For A...

Well let me just say this. I was almost thrown in jail in Norwalk a few weeks ago. My daughter got into some trouble for a fight she had in school with a bully. I went to the school counselor, then to the vice principal and principal, then to the police. This girl came into my daughters classroom where she wasnt scheduled to be, and started a fight with her. This went on for over two months and nothing was done to stop it by anyone I talked to. So my daughter finally snapped under the pressure, and it got physical. Well my daughter ended up in court, the other girl got in NO trouble. My daughters fine was only $5 dollars, but her court costs were $195 dollars. My husband had just started a new job, and we needed some extra time to pay this off. No extra time and a warrant was issued for my arrest. We are not "bad" people who "REFUSE" to pay our bills. Just needed a little extra time to pay! I have shared parenting with her father who is supposed to share half of all financial responsibility for her, no child support ordered. We haven't recieved a dime of help from him, not one dime! My point being is that there are people out there who do work for a living, and make an honest effort to pay, but when it isn't fast enough or good enough, what's a person to do? Go to jail and loose their job and not be able to pay at all just because SOME folks out there ride the system and break the law? I don't think so.

Now The Rest of...

Why would any public official talk to this newspaper, knowing they will trash you, unless you are on their favorites list. If you can't pay the fine don't do the crime.

bullydogs1971

and who holds these judges and those in authority accountable....they are almost always above the law when it comes to all the petty crap poor people are force to pay not to mention its impossible for a poor person to get a lawyer other than a public PRETENDER! Had to pay a fine not to long ago...my crime? forgot to wear a seat belt..... so why is it i cant chose to not wear a strap but a women can chose to murder her baby without recourse....most of these laws don't make sense....THE COURTS ARE NO LONGER A HOUSE OF JUSTICE BUT A HOUSE OF REVENUE! Bet none of these sitting judges ever have to go to court and pay for their daily petty indiscretions.....I used to live in a county where the judge was one of the toughest in the state on DUI's...come to find out this hypocrite was stopped on numerous occasions intoxicated but let go because of his Elite Judge status....its all a game folks and its all rigged.

bullydogs1971

might i also remind you it is ILLEGAL to jail people who are unable to pay! once again these hypocrites brake the law at their own discretion all in the name of money......and he wont answer questions could it could be his arse!

Curtis

Judge Ridge does a great job! It would be inappropriate for him to comment on this matter.

Centauri

http://thinkprogress.org/justice...
"In its report, the ACLU details the stories of several people sent to debtors’ prison. Jack Dawley owed $1,500 in “fines and costs in the Norwalk Municipal Court,” and was behind on child support payments, leading the Ohio courts to send him to prison in Wisconsin for 3 and a half years. He still struggles with trying to repay the fines. Another victim of the system, single mother Tricia Metcalf, was taken to jail each and every time she wasn’t able to make her $50-a-month payments on fines for writing bad checks. Megan Sharp, whose husband is currently in jail on overdue fines, was unable to pay $300 in fines for driving on a suspended license and went to jail for 10 days. When she got out, she owed $200 more on top of the original amount. Both she and her husband are unemployed."

Judges in corrupt Ohio do not follow laws.

Kelly

Where's corrupt Ohio? I've never heard of it.

Centauri

You should know since you live in Erie County, Ohio.

Kelly

Erie County is a wonderful place to live if you aren't a criminal or a conspiracy theorist.

bullydogs1971

your kidding right?

Kelly

Nope, I love it here.

bullydogs1971

i used to...only lived here about 8 years...moved from one tyranny to another just took awhile to realize it i guess....maybe by definition your right....i'm a criminal- i find it impossible to obey all the commands in that HUGE LIBRARY of countless laws! and i guess i'm a conspiracy theorist- i tend to try to find out the TRUTH and just don't accept all the lies of the main stream media..oh helps to study history too.

Kelly

Good for him. The ACLU is a joke!

Centauri

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Off-topic comments.

Kelly

I have no clue. I haven't seen any posts by them lately.

Centauri

"I have no clue. I haven't seen any posts by them lately."

Them?

Kelly

Well, I don't know if Buff is a him or a her so I went with them

Kelly

Somebody's cranky they don't have Erie Voices anymore lol!

Centauri

http://www.politicususa.com/debt...
"The ACLU report reveals that there is a “harrowing debtors’ prison” system in Ohio that violates both the United States and Ohio constitutions, and that many Ohio residents are sent to prison for debts “as small as a few hundred dollars” in spite of being in violation of the state and Federal Constitution."

Ohio is a very corrupt state. Look what the corrupt Ohio courts did to Elsebeth Baumgartner and her husband Joe.

Kelly

Oh you mean rightfully convicted felon Elsebeth Baumgartner? Ohio definitely got it right. No corruption there.

Julie R.

No corruption in sending some disbarred attorney to prison for 8 years for calling one of those corrupt old rent-a-judge's corrupt? Who are you trying to kid? Not even murderers, rapists and child molesters get 8 years. Goes to show the jokes in the worthless Ohio legal system aren't working for the people --- those goons are working for themselves.

Kelly

She's where she belongs and she did it to herself. No corruption needed.

Julie R.

Hey Kelly, did you ever listen to the lyrics in that song "Bye bye, Miss American Pie?" Where he sings about "do you have faith in God above .... the courtroom was adjourned with no verdict returned ........ and I saw Satan laughing with delight the day the music died?"

I don't know why but for some reason that song reminds me of the corrupt Ohio judicial system, especially in Erie County. While God shudders, Satan laughs with delight.

Centauri

http://www.acluohio.org/wp-conte...

Background on Debtors’ Prisons

queenjhb

eyeopener, thank you

DGMutley

Sure is an eye-opener. Thanks for posting.

Now The Rest of...

Kelly don't confuse the issue with the facts. You know they are always correct, their voices told them so and the 12 cats they live with in their mother's basement always agree with them.

Julie R.

You live in the basement of the Erie County courthouse with 12 cats?

Now The Rest of...

ACLU=All Criminals Loves Us...

The Big Dog's back

So trash the ACLU but stick up for a Judge who is breaking the law. Only in right wing world.

Now The Rest of...

You do realize dog breath both judges are democrats and are being targeted by a far left liberal group that only cares about those who break the law not the hard working middle class. Interesting paradox for you isn't it?

The Big Dog's back

I guess that's the difference between you and me. The law is the law.

Fromthe419

You and I are usually on opposite sides of the fence on most issues, but I am in complete agreement with you on this one. If they have to pay fines maybe intercept their tax returns, wage garnishment or something, but debtor prisons are against the law and these judges are breaking the laws they are sworn to uphold. I'm all in for sending people to jail that break laws, but there has to be a way to work with them to get their fines paid.

The Big Dog's back

Agreed.

Centauri

The simpletons are coming out in force.

Now The Rest of...

"The simpletons are coming out in force." So that what you are calling your inner circle, did your voices come up with that?

mikel

bullydogs says: "..they are almost always above the law when it comes to all the petty crap poor people are force to pay not to mention its.."

yeah like: getting their nails done, owning i-phones, having deluxe cable packages, multiple gaming systems, multiple computers, big screen tv's etc. terrible i tell ya that we should expect them to pay their fines!!

bullydogs1971

...and what do you say about the homeless people who have nothing....still jailed for not paying...btw there is a procedure to follow to determine ability to pay that is being ignore...i believe that is the real issue....and all those cops and judges and their families all have the same stuff...but when they get pulled over all they get is "oh sorry....didnt realize it was you...have a nice day!" and if you cant see this you are truly blind or one of them!

mikel

public works program is what i say. clean the streets, ditches, parks etc of trash, paint fire hydrants, the list could go on and on. pay $9 per hour towards the fine. so, if you owe $90 you are working 10 hours to pay it off.

there are many solutions!

bullydogs1971

oh yeah...i agree...if its not about the money then alternative punishments are great!

mikel

So, we just let those that owe continue to commit traffic offenses and other crimes without being held accountable? Sounds like a good plan....not!

bullydogs1971

just witnessed another hypocrisy... its against the law to text right...fines court costs for us regular citizens...the poor paupers? Just went to the door to kiss my wife goodbye and seen a police officer drive by....one eye on the road, one hand on the wheel....while the other eye is glued to the computer sitting next to her typing away! Like i said the game is rigged...it all about the money stupid!

mikel

take a pic and report it!

bullydogs1971

sorry not that guy...just brought it up to prove a point...momma always told me no one likes a tattle tail..

Kelly

except you didn't prove anything

bullydogs1971

my point is more often than not, those in charge are held to a different standard then the rest of us lowly peasants and those in charge cant follow their own rules...pretty simple, not rocket science.

The Big Dog's back

Agree.

Centauri

I very much agree also. I post comments on various American newspaper blogs. I try to expose rogue FBI and CIA agents who also are after me. I read the various comments and take notes. The higher ups and rich and powerful elites are above the law standards of the average citizen. In other words, they are above the law.

I have met with Judge Ridge and feel that he is an honest person and decent judge. Not corrupt but perhaps misguided by the powers that be who rule over corrupt Ohio.

Kelly

Paranoid much? LOL!

Centauri

Keep on LOL Kelly. The hackers have all information on you.

Kelly

LOLOL! You really are hilarious!

Kelly

Sure they do, dear, sure they do. :)

Centauri

You are in for a great surprise Kelly. I sometimes wish that I never got involved to expose the truth. I hope well for you and your family.

Kelly

No, I don't believe I am

Centauri

Google "KnightSec"

Kelly

Sorry can't Google it. I don't own a tinfoil hat.

Centauri

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

Kelly

lol!

Centauri

I will get the last LOL.

Centauri

You must think that Judge Ridge is corrupt.

Now The Rest of...

Sounds like to are talking about Obama and his disregard of the Constitution.

queenjhb

we all know judges want money for [special projects] sprucing up the office, new court ect....... Its against the law to imprison folks for inability to pay court fines and fees.[ proven inability to pay] have no money, will not have any money, how will they get it in jail? Meanwhile we are paying to keep them in jail. Taxes for judges to imprison the indigent ,makes no sense. By the way these [special court funds] the judges are sitting on could be used to better the community,new court houses ,spuced up offices ,not a necessity. I question the motivation for this fund .

Now The Rest of...

They have the money to purchase the booze and drugs to get into the trouble. The special funds are used in lieu of taxpayers funds from property taxes, its a user fee for the offenders to pay for the courts that has to put up with them. Most of the losers who won't or can't pay are the frequent flyers of the court systems.

Firelandsobserver

The law is the law. If a judge aren't themselves following the law and skipping over judicial procedures with hasty renderings shouldn't they be accountable as well?

It's just more ...

. . . behind the scenes at a local newspaper:

CRYING CHILD: "Daddy! Daddy! that mean old judge wouldn't answer my questions."
DAD: "It's OK son. He probably knows that we have a habit of misquoting people or taking their statements out of context, but we'll get him."
CHILD: "How Daddy?"
DAD: "Let's publish an article with absolutely no new news in it and make it look like the mean old judge is hiding something and is part of a conspiracy. Let's also pick a sensationalistic headline and add a big picture of the mean old judge."
CHILD: "Sounds good Daddy, but what if people point out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a judge not answering our questions or not wanting to comment."
DAD: "Well son, we'll just write another article and use the term "public records law" several times and say that the judge is violating the law."
CHILD: "Is that true Daddy. Is not answering our questions or giving us everything we want when we want it violating the law?"
DAD: "I don't have a clue son, but if we say it enough our readers will believe it."

queenjhb

We have to abide by the law, so should the judge.

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Has the All Criminals Love Us proved anything in this case, answer NO, most of the time their bark is worse than their liberal bite. They have a history of grandstanding when their fund raising is down. ACLU attorney someone that couldn't find a real job, much like some journalists..

Centauri

Journalists should expose the truth to the people. They can make much money.

Centauri

Start up a newspaper.

Now The Rest of...

In a era when the print media is dying they will do or write anything regardless of facts in an attempt to stay sell papers. Just because it printed doesn't make it a fact.

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ACLU has its own problems.

www.huffingtonpost.com/.../how-t...

happyfeet64

Norwalk Municipal Court does not offer agreements as low as $5 monthly.The minimum offered is between $25-$35.As for the assumption that the court would not incarcerate you if you truly couldn't pay your fine-please! I've been homeless living at the shelter in Sandusky(because job prospects were better there than in Norwalk) and have been arrested for failure to pay fines and incarcerated for 10 days. Judge Ridge had a system where every other time you were behind on your fines,you were incarcerated for 10-20 days,next time he would set up a new payment arrangement, which never decreased your payment-it would increase your payment.Add to that, the increased amount if a warrant was issued($50-$75) and fees to transport you from Muni court to the jail $5-$10 more. It was a racket. And don't start your self righteous ranting of I deserved it because I bought smokes or beer or drugs instead of paying my fines. I was a single mom who was trying to support myself and 2 children on min. wage at jobs that were seasonal with part time hours. Because of Ridge and Cardwell(yes him also), I lost my job, my kids and my home 2-3 times and have had to start over.Which I have and have succeeded in providing a home for myself and my family where I will NEVER be placed in their courts again. Oh, and before you make any assumptions that any of my stuff was drug or alcohol related, it wasn't. I had a citation for dog at large with no tags(just bought him on a Sunday and he ran out the door when I got him home), driving under suspension(my employer who I drove a landscaping truck for had purchased an SR-22 insurance policy on me without telling me which cancelled my insurance)when I was laid off I was stopped by NPD who informed me I didn't have insurance.And a bad check for $19.99 at IGA. So don't tell me! It was a racket to make money and they got caught.Plain and simple!Thank you ACLU!

Centauri

"It was a racket to make money and they got caught.Plain and simple!Thank you ACLU!"

There are many self righteous people on here who condemn the poor for their problems and also cheer on the illegal practices in Ohio. You also have trolls and flamers who try to pull you into an online fight. Love or hate the ACLU, someone has to speak up for the people who are being denied their rights. I am glad to see newspapers like the Sandusky Register exposing the wrongs in Fremont, Ohio. Where was the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Attorney General to put a stop to this illegal debtor prison practice? It has gone on for years and I have been told that some victims tried to get the OAG involved only to be told to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit. If people are too poor to pay fines, then how can they hire an expensive attorney? Judges should know better. Perhaps a class action lawsuit against all judges in all of Ohio needs to be filed. There are thousands of victims in Ohio who were thrown into jail because they were too poor to pay fines and court costs.

http://www.aclu.org/blog/crimina...
"They are unconstitutional. They are against state law. And yet, debtors’ prisons – jailing people because they are too poor to pay their court fines – are common across Ohio, according to a report released today by the ACLU of Ohio."

Some Ohio judges are rich with 6 figure salaries, nice expensive homes and a lot of money in the bank. Some Ohio judges laugh at Ohio's laws and do not abide by them. These judges can well afford to pay their fines. I looked up some of these judges to see who failed to pay their parking fines or traffic fines and found this one.

http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/...
"Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold has not paid more than $1,000 in fines and late fees for city of Cleveland traffic and parking tickets issued since 2006, records show.

She owes Cleveland $1,040 in fines and late fees for seven camera-issued tickets and one parking ticket, Cleveland Municipal Court Clerk records show. She has so many unpaid fines that police say they could tow her car to an impound lot if they spot it on the street."

Why didn't the Cleveland, Ohio courts go after this judge like they did to the poor people who had no money to pay for fines and late fees? If you are poor in Ohio and cannot pay a fine, you are S.O.L. and thrown into jail.

Julie R.

Like.

Best comment ever.

DGMutley

ditto

Julie R.

Here's another one in today's Journal.

A baliff for the Lorain County Domestics Court has failed to pay fines and court costs stemming from his conviction in 2001 for complicity to unlawful interest in a public contract and selling alcohol without a permit. The judge Lisa Swenski said she doesn't hold it against him --- she says she's one hundred percent behind him because he's a very good baliff.

http://www.morningjournal.com/ar...

Centauri

Now is the time to expose the truth.

http://leaksource.wordpress.com/
"We remind the rest of Anonymous collectives to never underestimate the power of brainwashed people in large numbers. We are still a minority compared to the rest of the Earth population. And the only way we would ever have a chance into saving humanity once and for all from the monopoly banking system is by telling people the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it."

To inform and educate the masses.

Julie R.

According to the Professional Rules of Conduct, judges are supposed to report any and all unethical acts of attorneys that prove they are unfit to practice law and vice versa --- attorneys are also supposed to report unethical judges.

From what I witnessed at that joke Erie County courthouse they could never do that because they work in collusion with each other --- which goes to show they are ALL unfit to practice law.

Centauri

Keep your comments coming Julie R. Ignore the trolls and flamers. I already know that you are telling the truth as do many others. The Sandusky Register should do a story about the corrupt courts of Erie County, Ohio.

bullydogs1971

Courts are no longer a house of JUSTICE! They have become a house of REVENUE! A Den of Thieves!