Ohio Supreme Court creates 'bench cards' after ACLU investigation

Has Norwalk shed its debtors' prisons reputation?
Cary Ashby
Feb 7, 2014


Ohio municipal court judges should expect a new "bench card" from the Supreme Court of Ohio soon.

The bench cards are aimed to help judges avoid the unconstitutional practice of sending people to jail when they owe the court fines and are unable to pay. According to the ACLU of Ohio, the card lists the legal alternatives to jail, such as payment plans or forfeiting a driver's license and outlines the procedure for determining someone's ability to pay.

An ACLU investigation, which covered 11 counties in Ohio, looked at Huron County bookings from May through the end of October 2012. The research showed "strong evidence of debtors' prisoners practice" in Norwalk, as well as Erie, Richland and Sandusky counties, said Jocelyn Rosnick, an ACLU policy researcher and post-graduate legal fellow.

Of the 1,171 bookings in Huron County from May through the end of October 2012, 259 were for failing to pay their fines or costs in municipal court. That averages out to one out of every five prisoners or 22 percent.

Since then, Eric Weisenburger has replaced the retired John S. Ridge as Norwalk Municipal Court judge.

Weisenburger said his court has implemented policies to be compliant with the law and outlined those policies, as well as discussed other court-related matters, for a story published in Thursday's issue of the Reflector. So you don't miss stories such as this one, you can subscribe to the Norwalk Reflector to receive home delivery and/or the e-paper, which is a complete digital replica of each issue. For more information, call (419) 668-3771 or click HERE.






I hate to second guess a judge but with Judge Ridge's knowledge of law and knowledge of court procedure that it would have occurred to him that the practice was unconstitutional long before the ACLU became involved

swiss family

No.."earld" his honorable Judge Ridge was one of the biggest offenders of sending criminals to jail time for non payment..so much so, that the state board questioned his actions....I know , it is so shocking, as well as disappointing... I never would have suspected that He of all Judges, would be involved in anything inappropriate......,.. shocking!!

J Cooper

This county was lucky to have a judge with the ability of Judge Ridge, only criminals, the ACLU (All Criminals Love US) and uninformed fools would think otherwise....

Cliff Cannon

@ J Cooper : Here's a couple of numbers for you courtesy of county auditor Roland Tzach.

The last year Judge Ridge ( whom I too admire ) was in office " Norwalk Muni court " sent the auditor's office some $190,000 dollars. The first year the new---All Criminals Love US ( ACLU )-- led guidelines were in place 'Norwalk Muni court' sent $130,000 to the auditors office ( please note. I did not write these numbers down, so if I am off by a buck..) So obviously, the ACLU has done their 'job' and secured protection's for the criminal

Now I do not in any way shape or form blame Judge Weisenberger for this. After all he is the one with his hand's tied by the Supreme court and I do not doubt for one second, that are many criminals that come before him ( repeatedly ) that he would probably like send to Devil's island for life , if only he could.

Further,way back in 1835 a remarkable French thinker named Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a landmark book entitled " Democracy in America ". This book has been 'standard issue ' to the political science student ever since.

In it de Tocqueville made many startling accurate predictions of America's future. This one tops my list. He wrote that if we Americans ever 'discovered ' what is in our constitution we would be in serious trouble.

Obviously, we have 'discovered ' our constitutional 'rights' and discarded 'responsibility's 'in vast numbers,haven't we ? Because of that 'discovery' the petty thief, the career criminal or the murderer all stand ' legally ' above the honest citizen,don't they ?

Why ? Simply,because the honest citizen depends more on common sense, common deceny and the understanding that just because it is 'legal' that doesn't make it 'right',does it ? (God protect us from further ACLU led 'help' in 'discovering' what is in our constitution )

P.S. Was talking with a ranking N.P.D. officer the other day. He was surprised, that the winter weather hasn't slowed down the 'average' thief very much. It seems as though, their favorite place to hit ( apart from innocent peoples unguarded home's ) Wal-Mart. Continues to lose many 'fence able' items for their drug habits.

Want to bet that many of those on here, supporting these ACLU led changes also want those druggie/thieves sent away for long stretches ?

swiss family

yes, "iFF" God forbid that we should abide by our Constitution... It is only the blue print set up by our first governing fore fathers on which we have built this great country.I do understand that you enjoy throwing out names, as if that means anything to anyone besides you, but please learn to spell their last names correctly... thanks..and if you don't mind, would you please cite which part of our Constitution, gives the "petty thief, the career criminal or the murderer all stand "legally"above the honest citizen" as you claim.

I would also point out, that unless you have personally spoken to Judge Weisenberger, you can not claim that he would like to send anyone to "Devil's Island" also as you claim...

The problem is not the Constitution, the problem lies in the personal opinions and agenda's of the Judges.Go back 2 years, in our own midst, we had 3 judges, the Judge of our juvenile system did and still does an outstanding job, most probably because he looks at each case objectively and fairly., as as of yet, to the best of my knowledge, has not been investigated or reprimanded by any source set up to govern his agenda and his rulings. then we had 2 more... one who had a "God" complex, who over ruled what other judges in other jurisdictions put in place, because he thought he was the "be all" of his world (our town)and because of this, he was reprimanded by the higher ups, for his decisions, and ultimately "retired" which could be seen as "wanting to get out before he was investigated further"so as a final slap to us and to continue to follow his God complex he double dipped by getting his retirement pay, plus also got an income acting again as the judge until a suitable replacement could be set in place...all of this pretty egocentric, if you get right down to it... Then we have the other Judge..who allows hardened criminals, heroin dealers, repeat offenders and alike, tp plea bargain their serious charges down to some minor slap on the hand, and even then when shockingly , they can not even abide by these easy sentences, they get a stern warning that they are not only being watched, but now they are on "Intense probation" whatever that means, I see it as when your teachers used to tell you that it goes on your "permanent record" bug deal.. So you see... it is not our coveted Constitution , as you seem to think, and yet to have proven where the Constitution allows this action, it is the interpretation and ego's of the Judges, Right now I believe we have a great judge in our juvenile division, and a good Judge in our City jurisdiction, but we have a serious problem in our County division, all of which are governed by our Constitution.. in my opinion , of course..


I don't think I would call me an uninformed fool just because I question if he should have known the law or not



J Cooper

Proved my point, "I'VE SEEN HIM IN ACTION ENOUGH TO BE ABLE TO SAY IT'S TRUE." another unsatisfied frequent flyer in the court system..... Luck & mercy? Do the crime, do the time, simple even for you. Problem with our society lack of personal responsibility for ones actions, if you have the cash for the booze & drugs you should have the cash to pay the fine. Cap lock stuck, what does this have to do with guns or being liberal, again thanks for proving my point....


I don't think I understand your point Mr Cooper,I think its a good thing when everybody observes whats written in the constitution

J Cooper

The supreme court has just recently set these new guild lines, due to many courts interrupting some very vague rulings in the past in different ways. The supreme court in the past along with numerous district appeals courts has issued conflicting rulings on this subject. Many of Judge Ridges policies were in compliance and used by other courts.. As I stated before its about personal responsibility for your actions. Lack of cash never seems to deter them from breaking the law but society should excuse them without any penalties for their crimes.

I Can Read

If you can't pay the fine then you should be put in jail! How can you be punished if you aren't held accountable? Let's think about this, if I don't pay the fine they will suspend my license??? We'll I can still drive without that, I just have to be careful not to get pulled over. Wow, I just saved $300 thank you ACLU


i'm not defending low lifers but I'm not defending a judge who can't interpret law either,truth is the supreme court took him to the woodshed


Speedy is right. As a juror Ridge's actions were horrible imo. Or my friend who helped render a verdict in a case heard the judge say I don't agree with you (jurors) So? Isn't that what justice is about? The people spoke on a case not the judge. Let's not forget why he retired......


These municipal/traffic courts are so unconstitutional and the judges are very corrupt. These thugs are not allowed to enter a plea on behalf of a defendant, they are guilty of practicing law from the bench!

J Cooper

So much information so few facts from a few. The supreme court took NO action against Judge Ridge or any judge on this issue, they issued a guide to clarify conflicting statues. A judge does not have to agree with the jury, did he overturn the decision? He retired due to the retirement reforms instituted in 2012 and effective in 2013. A judge can enter a not guilty plea upon behalf of a defendant if the defendant is unsure of a plea or refuses to enter a plea, hope that is simple enough for a few. Seems like prime examples of unsatisfied frequent users of the system

Dr. Information

Cooper, great posting. We live in a cry baby society where we actually have people who feel bad for criminals. Doesn't pay to be a law abiding citizen anymore. Let's continue to support criminals and not make them be held responsible for breaking the law.


Why do conservatives want to ignore the US Constitution when it comes to "debtors' prisons" but want to extend "gun rights" beyond anything written in the Constitution? It's the height of arrogance and hypocrisy. It's both intellectually and politically dishonest. It smacks of buying your way out of jail simply because you have the money to do it. Of course, conservatives can never be accused of anything honest especially when it comes to their own self-interest instead of what is best for the community-at-large.

Cliff Cannon

@jas : I believe your quote from the last time we debated debtors prison : " You can't get blood out of a turnip " still rings the truest in this matter. However, it is still a fun topic to debate, isn't it ?


I couldn't agree more jas and I am a conservative,we can't pick the parts we like,also quoting some french thinker on our constitution is absurd

Cliff Cannon

@ earlduck : "also quoting some french thinker on our constitution is absurd "

Did you ever notice in pleasant conversation, that most people don't listen ? Then they tend to participate in the conversation only so they can talk ? Debating, seems about the same way,doesn't it ? Because very few ever change their mind in debate---no matter the points made, do they ?

So I wasn't going to waste my time or yours commenting again here. Then I remembered, seeing you change your mind on occasion and thought 'just maybe' this point, is one you might enjoy.

Alexis de Tocqueville is more remembered, and hence more quoted, for his prediction in 1835 that Russia and America would someday rise to become superpowers battling for world domination ( paraphrasing )Which meant, during the 'Cold war' one would see his name with a degree of frequency.

So that's where I came across him. His views on our constitution are valid here ( in my viewpoint ) not only because they are basically accurate, but more important, because he 'knew' our constitution forwards as well as backwards

Here's how. James Madison " the father of the constitution " was hooked on the French renaissance writer Montesquieu and he (along with John Locke) should get, I believe more credit for our constitution. ( How about calling Montesquieu " grandfather of our constitution " ? )

So guess who de Tocqueville was hooked on ? Yep. Montesquieu. Which is why I do not think it is absurd at all to quote this French thinker on our constitution. ( Would you agree ?)

Great day to you

J Cooper

What does this article have anything to do with gun rights, or conservatives? Example of changing the subject when you lack facts.


W.C Fields said, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull$h*t."

Cliff Cannon

@ windy : I want to thank-you sir for proving my point to 'earlduck '. For I was truly hoping someone would come along and say something dumb and you obliged.

Why ? Because, I clearly wrote : " Did you ever notice in pleasant conversation, that most people don't listen ? Then they tend to participate in the conversation only so they can talk ? Debating, seems about the same way,doesn't it ?

Obviously, you neither read or if you did, you could not comprehend what I wrote, true ? Or maybe, you thought our constitution appeared out of mid-air. No matter. The truth of the matter is you had nothing what so ever to add to the historical origination of our constitution or why de Tocqueville matters. So you wrote something dumb, that certified all you wanted to do was talk, with out listening or comprehending correct ?

Thanks again for making my point for me.

swiss family

JCoo... it has nothing to do with gun rights or conservatives.. that is just our dear "iFFy" throwing out his B S trying to show everyone how intelligent he is, only because he actually believes it himself.

Next he will be quoting Captain Penny, and Kangaroo, and Miss Barbra and Franz the toy maker...and them go into his demeaning questions like "don't I??" or "isn't it??"People should realize that he never actually has an opinion, but he will Kiss any big named locals Behind, and throw out meaningless quotes...it can be very annoying, I know, but then when I am in a different frame of mind, it is actually entertaining...it is kind of like watching a machine that blows hot air, and kisses butts all the time....in my opinion.. Oh and to "Iffy" you claim that I exposed who Thomas Jefferson is.. could you please identify them for me?? because I really have no idea who they are???? thanks so much