Judge Ridge, muni court, Norwalk all being sued

Allegations of "debtors' prison" leads to class-action lawsuit.
Cary Ashby
Mar 14, 2014


Two Huron County residents are plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed in Toledo.

The lawsuit is filed against Norwalk Municipal Court, retired Judge John Ridge and the city of Norwalk. Sandusky attorney John Gold, who filed it Oct. 7 in the western division of the U.S. Northern District of Ohio, said the plaintiffs are seeking "injunctive relief" and monetary damages. A class-action lawsuit consolidates similar lawsuits in which the legal and factual issues are identical.

The plaintiffs are Larry Thornsberry, of Norwalk; and Tammy Dewiel, of Collins; Jeremiah Stover, of Sandusky; and Joshua D. Ward, of Huron.

"The first one to come to me was Josh Ward. Jeremiah is an acquaintance," said Gold, who is representing all four people. "They were the two main plaintiffs."

At the heart of the lawsuit is the allegation by the ACLU of Ohio that Ridge and other municipal court judges made an unconstitutional practice of sending people to jail when they owed the court fines and were unable to pay. ACLU officials have referred to the suspected practice as "debtors' prisons."

Ridge retired Dec. 31, 2012, but remained judge in an interim basis until May 2013, when Gov. John Kasich appointed Eric Weisenburger as Ridge's replacement. Weisenburger, who was elected in the fall, has said the court has implemented policies to comply with Ohio Revised Code section 2947.14 -- aka "hearing(s) on (the) ability to pay fines."

Norwalk Law Director Stuart O'Hara discussed the lawsuit Thursday with the Reflector.

"We were served with this sometime around the 10th or 11th of November last year," he said.

"In our opinion -- and the belief of most legal scholars -- the judge has immunity. The city of Norwalk is not liable; it has no control over the court. We have no ability to dictate its operations or activities," O'Hara said.

"The Norwalk Municipal Court is not created by the city of Norwalk. It's a creation of statute," he said, citing chapter 1901 of the ORC. "All municipal courts are created by state statute.

"Our belief is the court is not sui juris. It means it's not an entity that can sue or be sued," O'Hara added.

Gold, the plaintiffs' attorney, said he plans to file an amended complaint to the lawsuit in which the city of Norwalk will be dismissed from the lawsuit.

"It will be filed April 1," he added.

"There really is no claim against the city," said Gold, who believes the Norwalk Police Department only was involved by serving warrants, which is an officer's obligation.

"We're still doing our due diligence," said the attorney, who noted it's easier to include several parties in a lawsuit when it's first filed. "You can always dismiss someone out.

"We're really early in it. We haven't fleshed out all those issues," Gold said.

The plaintiffs' attorney outlined the two general types of relief in the lawsuit: Injunctive and monetary.

About the injunctive relief, Gold said that means the plaintiffs want the court to cease the practice of imprisoning people who haven't had a hearing about their ability to pay their fines.

Gold said most people lump fines and court costs into the same category.

"In actuality, under Ohio law, they (fines and court costs) are treated very differently," said Gold, who added courts can't jail someone for failing to pay court costs because they are a "civil debt."

About the monetary relief being sought by the plaintiffs, Gold said the residents are seeking the loss of funds from employment when they were in jail.

"I believe (Thornsberry) was in jail for a couple of months. That happened for 10 days (and) 20 days at a time," Gold said. "We're not finished computing those days."

O'Hara, Norwalk's attorney, has been practicing law for 35 years. He said "this is the first time" he's seen a municipal court being sued.

About the frequency of judges being sued, O'Hara said: "That rarely happens for monetary relief."



Blah blah blah, unknownmessanger, u can't even spell your own avatar name, it's messenger, not messanger! Talk about ignorant and uneducated? And by the way...it's not double jeopardy to lock someone up for the same crime moron. That only applies once you've been tried and found innocent, guilty or acquitted of the same crime in the same case. Failure to pay fines and fees resulting from a conviction, and being arrested and jailed again for not paying those fines is certainly not double jeopardy in any way shape or form. Read a book and stop believing everything you see in crappy movies.


o my bad i didnt realize screen names were supposed to be grammatically correct...you guys are funny...look up the bill on double jeopardy people...it does not say you can only be tried once for a crime only...theres alot more to it than just that...its like a 10 page bill...how many of you have read past the first paragraph....by the way its nothing...not nuthin. i dont expect dumb to get my screen name...theres more to it than what you see...listen this is the fact...this court system would not be changing the way they are doing things, and would not have credited tens of thousands of dollars to these "criminals" if what they have been doing wasnt wrong....instead of hiding behind your screens why not use your idiotic big mouths to do something useful for our community...get out be active...before you bash others opinions maybe you should have one original thought of your own...see the problem in this town arent the criminals, its the cowards like yourselves that hide in their home hating on others opinions, instead of making a stand....does it bother you people more that these people are suing the court...even if their wrong its their right to invoke their right to be heard in a court of law...even if you dont agree with it...so here you people are sitting on your bums complaining about these people while the next door neighbor is out there selling heroin to our kids...you want to keep these people out of our court systems?...be active..protect our children not just your own but the neighbors children too...chase these people out..quit being destructive, be constructive...stand up get with your neighbors and refuse to let this continue...your not hurting me..my opinion will always be mine...you do not reserve the right to be a whiner if you refuse to make a stand...pleas hate on me... i love it...if i can keep you hating on me maybe sooner or later you might just see where im coming from...it just bothers me that you people sit around all day hating other peoples opinion...just remember this...opinions and controversial subjects have made this country what it is...its people like you who hate everyone elses thoughts that keeps it suppressed...use your minds, your thoughts,and your mouths to make a difference...dont use them to spread ignorance...no matter how much you disagree with me none of you have even made a valid point..only hate towards what i believe...which shows pure stupidity...its dumb beliefs like yours that ruins what americans are supposed to be about...which is opinionated beliefs and pride on the fact that i can say them


For the love of god stop posting, you sound dumber and dumber every time you do. And by the way, I spelled mine that way on purpose...you and I and everyone suffering through reading your incoherent ramblings knows you actually thought that was how messenger was spelled.

J Cooper

If the city mowed his grass the amount owed goes on his taxes, not a criminal fine, as for the $5 balance sounds like something of a fantasy tale from someone who is a frequent flyer at Norwalk Muny.

Double jeopardy is being tried for the same crime after you were found not guilty or pled to a crime, has nothing to do with payment of fines. Instead of calling others ignorant fools, might want to check your facts...


The Norwalk Police Dept. use to intentionally arrest people on Friday afternoons who owed small amounts of money to the Court so they would sit in jail over the weekend before getting a hearing on their fines. They would specifically pick out people they didn't like for some reason. Abuse of power has been rampant in Norwalk for decades and former Judge Ridge condoned it.

J Cooper

Right all NPD had to do on Friday was pick up the trash, by the way not a bad idea if they had the time to keep the weekend quiet.

Good 2 B Me

Agreed J Cooper. Maybe the other local authorities ought to take notes!


look it up ...read it all...that is not its only purpose...you need to check your facts...like i said read it all and you will see that your wrong and im right...if you serve your entire sentence it protects you from being jailed multiple times...even if you owe fines...if you sit out a sentence, double jeopardy protects you from sitting time again for the same crime, which includes being in contempt for fines...there are procedures to follow and this court didnt follow them...plain and simple


Holy s**t messanger, it's you are (you're) not your. Could you be more illiterate? You continue to insist that you understand the written facts, but you continue to misinterpret the meaning. Let me attempt to explain, in one final desperate plea to convince you to stop proving your absolute and utter ignorance of the English language as well as the legal system and the writings of the constitution, that of which you insist you have a firm and knowledgeable grasp on. Ok here we go simple Simon. THE CRIME HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FINES THE DEFENDANT DID NOT PAY AND WERE SUBSEQUENTLY RE-ARRESTED FOR. Once a defendant enters a plea and are found guilty, they are now subject to the conditions of the plea or guilty plea! Thus they are now under an entirely different set of OBLIGATIONS DEEMED SUITABLE BY THE COURT OF THE STATE OF OHIO AND THE OHIO REVISED CODE!!!!! NOW SHUT THE F**K UP YOU SILLY BIOTCH!


And once again, I agree Coop, but MESSANGER just won't let it go lol.


the court changed the way they do things now which tells me they were doing it wrong in the first place


finally....a valid point...thanks earl...its not about taking the side of the criminals, its about taking the side of justice...which is what this country is supposed to be all about...you cant hide in your home and complain...if that was the american way we would all still own slaves...what if the greatest leaders and innovators were cowards, and afraid like people are today...we might be comfy as citizens of this country but its still our job as citizens to make a stand for what is right and what is wrong...and not everyone will agree with what is the truth...there are still people in this world that will swear to you the holocaust never happened, but the truth is it did...i know that that example is sort of extreme but its just one example of the ignorance that still strives amongst our people...we have a constitution for a reason...its there to protect its citizens from ignorance just like this...i say if you people dont like it than move to north korea


Excellent point


im sorry j cooper i tried to dumb down my comment a little bit for people like you but you just dont get it so let me tell you what you think you know...since you have done so much research than you must know that the norwalk city council just adopted the ordinance that will allow the city to put the services used for city used lawn care into their property tax,jan 1st 2013, did you know that if said person cant pay that tax the city can put a lien on their property and eventually own the property. did you also know that the double jeopardy bill isnt just to protect you from being tried in court for a crime youve been acquitted from it also protects people from being punished for the same crime multiple times. its not law, its the constitution....so before you try to chime in and make someone look stupid do some research, because you just made an idiot of yourself...and back to the guy who owed 5 dollars, it doesnt matter how many times he has been there it is unconstitutional to be punished for the same crime multiple times, hence the double jeopardy bill. a court does not reserve the right to jail you for unpaid fines fines unless the court is active in what they call "collections court". which is held every month and after you explain to the court your reasons why you havent paid, the court can then impose a contempt warrant and be jailed. when the court gives you a deadline for payment of your fines collections court is then the next step to collecting said debt

J Cooper

"I tried dumb down my comment" probably easy for you. Might want to use spell check and proper grammar and capitalization. From someone who is clearly a frequent flyer of the criminal justice system, Its not called collection court, its a show cause hearing. How many have you been the defendant? Political subdivisions has had the authority to place tax liens on property for forced services for many years, yet another example of you either misunderstanding the facts or ignoring them.


First of all, Judge John Ridge, the Norwalk Municipal Court..and the City of Norwalk are all handled exceptionally well. So,if you break the law, have been found guilty of that infraction, make "sincere" promises to pay your fines through the court..sometimes at $10.00-$20.00 a month...fail to pay..fail to notify the courts of your "bad situation"..meaning you can't pay...and you end up in the local slammer..you want to sue?? LOL..Listen, the court, and John Ridge did every thing to help you. You blow it off..and you want compensated. What a joke. Pay your payments, make other arrangements, and otherwise keep the courts informed. They will work with you..but, ignore them, and you just might end up in jail, where you belong.


Regardless of the plaintiffs and their pasts, if the court was doing this (I know another person they were doing it to, and everytime they were released from jail, they'd get a job, then lose it when they couldn't keep up with the fines...) What recourse do these citizens have? Our law director, which I've always felt was a little shady, states the court cannot be sued. How then, can the courts be stopped from doing something illegal? Waiting until the next election is not a satisfactory answer. I agree, too, with Earlduck; if they changed the rules, the obviously knew they were doing something wrong.


I know of others of have suffered "misfortunes", and claim they can't pay..well, if you made the arrangement...the agreement...then pay! The courts weren't doing something illegal..per say..they were enforcing their arrangement with the defendant. Our law director is fair, knowledgeable, and educated. Its simple..pay whatever you can pay..and keep accountable to the court..


"...the court has implemented policies to comply with Ohio Revised Code section 2947.14 -- aka "hearing(s) on (the) ability to pay fines." Sounds like they KNEW what they were previously doing was wrong. Since I can assume you were responding to my post, I have to say you failed to answer my question: What recourse do citizens have when the court has done them wrong? Something like this can happen to anyone, even over a silly parking ticket...


To be sure there are valid statements on both sides here. The aforementioned names are not stellar with those ancient to Huron County. Their lineage does not bode well those who have centuries here. Also Ridge does not like those who stand their ground either. (Remember the potential juror & the discourse?) Fact is we all have to serve some one (D.A.Coe wrote it) and actions are running their course. None will escape it. This could be interesting. Reap what you ...... most hate truth.


We live in a society where every day the "its always someone else's fault" attitude rings very loud. The courts give multiple opportunities to pay at an affordable rate and time frame. It's not the courts fault these idiots fail to pay on a timely manner.

Wait until the next election? Are the criminals coming out in mass to vote. Lol. Yeah right.


i guess ignorance is bliss...people like you , i think have forgotten you are part of that society...and people like you and i are the only ones who can change thing and make this place a better place...its easy to sit around and blame a handful of trouble makers for our society being screwed up, but the truth is, there are more people not causing trouble and refuse to stand up against the ignorance...so the next time you want to lay blame on someone else, maybe you need to ask yourself what you can do to change this society...you dont get to complain if you are to afraid to make a stand

Dr. Information

So how is arnmcrmn or anyone else suppose to stop people we have no clue of, don't associate with from breaking the law. Talk about ignorance. Keep on ranting.


whats up doc...this is why i say know your neighbors, know your neighborhood...look out for one another...did you know that there have been run down inner city urban neighborhoods, that were being controlled by gangs and drug dealers...areas where violent crimes were happening daily...some of those neighborhoods will always exist...some of those exist no more...do you know why...because the people took a stand...they said no more...they got out of their homes and rallied with neighbors...they took back what was theirs...if you know people who are doing wrong rally together to point them out...if you dont know anyone rally together anyway...we are all within a few degrees of all these people, this is a small community...i just dont understand why that logic is so ignorant...


We also live in a society where hypocrisy rings loud and clear. Whine and complain and have someone thrown in jail when they can't pay a fine, then whine and complain that tax payers have to foot the bill for people in jail. I'm just gonna go bang my head against the wall; maybe then I'll find the bliss that so many reflector readers have.


so true...these idiots on here just complain...they are cowards hiding behind screen names...refusing to see the truth for what it is...im all about what is right and what is wrong...no matter who was wronged...

J Cooper

Juvenile naming calling, "hiding behind screen names" your mother didn't pick theunkownmessanger, no rational thought. Prime example of a frequent flyer of the criminal justice system...


smfh...you say no rational thoughts...how do you figure...ive stood behind everything ive said and have stated nothing but facts...where are your rational thoghts...youve done nothing to defend your ideas, only bashed mine...frequent flyer, no not at all. am i perfect like you, no...the difference between you and i are that i dont believe that evreyone who has ever stepped foot in a court room are all bad people...ive had a few speeding tickets and have always paid my debts to my town...i dont however, believe in throwing every person who cant afford their obligations in jail...it costs tax payers like you and i more money to round up and house these people than what its worth...i dont know about you j but i would rather our tax dollars get spent on rounding up the drug dealers, and sexual predators that continuously get next to nothing sentences for the felonies these scum bags are committing...would you rather our tax dollars get spent locking up the people in our society who owe a couple hundred dollars, or would you rather fill our jail and spend our tax dollars on keeping this scum off our streets...see the thing is that these are for the most part all non violent misdemeanor cases that are filling our jails...while in the mean time we walk amongst felonious offenders who have seen less time inside jails and prison than these petty criminals...hate me j, i dont care but your priorities are so screwed up...you keep trying to put me in my place but you cant because all of your points are ridiculous...think about everything ive said and if you have any common sense whatsoever you will have no choice but to agree with at least some of it

Dr. Information

So what's your real name then?

J Cooper

Still don't under stand basic grammar and capitalization. Difficult to debate someone with such a low educational background in a civil manner.