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."

Comments

nuthin4u

Coop, lol

theunknownmessanger

wow, goes to show your educational background...your a hypocrite j...you even said it yourself...CIVIL matter....not criminal...civil matters are not punishable by a jail sentence...there is no such thing as debtors prison in the united states...look it up...once a crime is committed and the time is served collecting the monies owed for fines than turn into a civil matter...you try to cut on my intellect but you do nothing but continuously stick your foot in your mouth...every time you come at me you just prove over and over again how stupid you are...so how about you try coming back with something else besides name calling, because you have yet to make a valid point at all...look at all of your responses to me and look at how dumb you look

swiss family

I , for one am shocked and confused... I always thought that Judge Ridge was an honesst and forthright person. and Now to see that they are investigating some wrong doing??? I can hardly believe it... I was so glad that the newspaper asked the retired Judge for his thoughts and comments, and again I was shocked when he said "NO COMMENT"?????????Of course I am not a judge, but it almost sounds like the "no contest" plea.. where you know you are guilty, but are just saved the embarrassment of saying it out loud...I hope that none of this is true.... I mean Judge Ridge always had that "apple pie, Richie Cunningham" kind of quality about him, and I am and will be in total disbelief if they can prove him being guilty...

J Cooper

Even if litigation that you are named is bogus, you never make a comment while its pending, would think the all knowing Potsie should know that....

earlduck

does anybody really care who the Muni Judge is,but i do care about the constitution !!

Dr. Information

And we wonder why this nation, let alone this county is in trouble. Just read the unknownmessAnger's comments.

Wow.

nuthin4u

Bump to Dr. Info

theunknownmessanger

wow is right...first off id like to say thanks for being the first and only person to get my screen name, i guess i should have written it that way so more people would have gotten it....if a few misspellings is what you hate about me most so be it, but i have done nothing but stuck up for our constitutionals rights, ive said get up be active. know your neighbors know your neighborhood..look out for each other and stand up for what is right...you dont have to agree with me but the truth is this..the system is being investigated by a higher government for a reason...they have paid thousands of dollars to people for a reason...a judge of 20 plus years has suddenly retired 1 year before his term was up...those are the facts...its your tax dollars. dont you think we have the right to know the whole truth to what has been going on...if this is going on in the muni building what other types of unlawful practices might be happening that we dont know about? thats why i say stand up..demand to know...people like me arent the problem...the problem is that this nation is full of do nothing,lazy judgmental pricks who have become so comfortable with their corporate owned automaton lifestyle they refuse to speak out in fear of losing what they have...so go back read everything ive said and tell me where im wrong...please...if the biggest debate you have are misspellings or the fact that i didnt use a comma or period where i should have, i urge you all to rethink your ideas of who is ignorant...in conclusion, no matter how i construe the law there are millions of lawyers who will have a hundred more ways to interpret the same law...its never as simple as you want it...and always remember, its a blog not an essay

J Cooper

“Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

theunknownmessanger

lol...yet you just cant stop can you

J Cooper

ditto...

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style

J Cooper
theunknownmessanger

hahahahahaha...another example of just how much of an idiot you are...you actually went out of your way to find that...trying to continue to name call...if memory serves me correctly the very first post on this topic was from you...ever since i disagreed with you, you have done nothing but name call...you have shown no facts, nor have you even tried to defend yourself...im sorry but ive read all of these blogs and have seen some horrible grammar and yet you only come at me...why?...because i made you mad...i made you look like the fool you are...but thats ok with me because i've been able to keep you on here for the last 3 days mad...ive been under your skin...thats my purpose...to anger you...make you think...even if you hate me...so keep looking things up trying to cut me down its ok with me, i think you can find some good yo mama jokes somewhere if your running out of material...you should really look up "original thoughts" and try to steal yourself a couple of those

KURTje

I've always thought Ridge quit because the we paid him was going to be reduced.

Jedi-YOPO-Stover

Greetings concerned citizens! Yes it's the dastardly douchebag you think it is. I just wanna say that I'm thankful that the dialogue has been opened on this topic. I would like to commend you all for your adamant concern and revelation of your natures. Also I hope to bring into light the operations of the prosecution system and drug task force operations and the detectives as well. At first glance of my less than upstanding criminal record based solely on a less than juvenile or infantile understanding of me. I say that because some of you seem to rush to judgement and execute your sentences without first gathering even 1% of the facts.It would seem that I'm your typical garden variety thug. Well I have spent a lot of time in and out of the legal system and I have been paying very close attention and taking notes. With that said hold on to your seat folks because for those of you who are of the conviction that you know who the real criminals are this is going to be a very turbulent ride. To whom it may concern: I would like to inform the media that I have a lot of let's say controversial information, and if your interested in speaking with me then come find me. Good night. Jeremiah Stover.....jstover275@gmail.com

theunknownmessanger

bravo jedi...i must give you props on your willingness to give out your info and making yourself completely vulnerable to some of these people...i used the phrase "hiding behind screen names", knowing that its a hypocritical statement because thats exactly what im guilty of, so please let me explain myself...there are to many idiots that get on here and blog, and im just not willing to allow some of these people to blow up my personal sites and spaces...i am however always willing to listen to facts, meet, and rally with those who have valid points...im not the media but i would like the opportunity to listen to your controversial info...it all starts somewhere, and sometimes it only takes one voice to create voices...

Listentothis

I am a hard working, middle class American. I go to work, I pay my bills, I follow the law. I have been followed by police cars while driving, pulled over, but not ticketed because I was following the law. If there is a drunk driver, I expect the police to pull said person over and arrest them. Police cannot always pick out offenders unless they observe them. Nobody is perfect, but when I need the police in an emergency, they are there. If you're doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. If you're breaking the law, own up to your consequences. If you're having difficulty taking care of yourself or problems, there is always help somewhere, you just have to want to find it. What happened to the pride and self respect of Americans? Lazy pieces of trash always wanting life to come free and spoon fed.

bama

So, I looked these "pillars of the community" on both the Norwalk and Sandusky Municipal Court records and boy I tell ya, they can go out and get into trouble but damned if they could find a job to pay their fines. Each with MULTIPLE ARRESTS ranging from DUI, Assaults, Public Intox, THEFT and theft related crimes as well as DRUG charges. The list is WAY TOO LONG for me to want to sit here and post. Here's an idea, divide the total fines of each against the current minimum wage and then set it to hours of community service. If they don't perform the community service, then throw their a** in jail for the rest of the days. Now its not about fines and costs but failure to abide by an order of the court. Then tack on the suspended jail days from their cases.

Whitebuffalo

Doesn't it just cost us more to lock up people who can't pay fines and court costs? Is jail free of more costs? I would think the "debtor" would be turned into a collections system that could use garnishments of pay and/or any tax refunds.

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