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.



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.

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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.


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 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.


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!


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

"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.


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


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


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


your kidding right?


Nope, I love it here.


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.


Good for him. The ACLU is a joke!


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


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


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



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


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

"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.


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.


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.


Background on Debtors’ Prisons


eyeopener, thank you


Sure is an eye-opener. Thanks for posting.

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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?

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ACLU=All Criminals Loves Us...