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

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 .

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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.

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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!

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