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Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Judge warns of rising costs in criminal cases

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - A local judge warned Mercer County Commissioners of rising expenses due to ongoing murder cases and a record number of other judicial proceedings swamping common pleas court.
"The court is way busier than it's ever been in the 22 years I've been here," Judge Jeffrey Ingraham told commissioners Tuesday.
Most of the discussion focused on exorbitant expenses being submitted to the county by court-appointed attorneys for two men charged in the slayings of Robert and Colleen Grube in their Fort Recovery home in November 2011.
Counties, by law, must pay for court-appointed attorneys and expenses such as expert witnesses, psychologists and investigators when defendants claim indigence. Officials expect the final bill to reach hundreds of thousands of dollars if either or both of the cases related to the Grube deaths go to trial.
Ingraham earlier this month granted the attorneys for murder defendant Bryant Rhoades, 22, of Union City, a maximum $17,500 to create printed copies of all information gathered by law enforcement during the 16-month investigation.
Defense attorney Bill Kluge initially sought four copies of the "discovery" information shared by the prosecutor. The estimate to print the 75,000 black and white pages and 1,105 full color pages was $16,184 for two sets.
"I don't have anything in my budget to give them $16,000," Ingraham told commissioners. "And the law says I have to give it to them."
Ingraham said it would be cheaper to buy the defendants computers to view the documents from thumb drives. However, any malfunctions preventing the defendants from possessing or viewing the complete information could later lead to an appeal of the case, he said.
Commissioner Jerry Laffin said a supplemental appropriation likely will be made by the county to cover the expense.
"We can't help it, you can't help it," Laffin said, adding it's the law.
The state reimburses counties for approximately 35 percent of the court-appointed attorney fees and expenses; it also has the power to reject them. The county must pay the sums up front.
In death penalty cases such as the one against Rhoades, the county is obligated to pay for the services of two defense attorneys. Alleged co-defendant Trevin Sanders Roark, 19, also of Union City, is not facing the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the murders. However, he also is represented by a pair of court-appointed attorneys.
The county in the last year paid $5,875.42 for two court-appointed attornies and court costs in a murder case against Daniel C. Martin. The 40-year-old was sentenced in June for the November 2012 murder of Mindi Shinn in Rockford.
Ingraham also told commissioners he's struggling to get through a busy criminal docket while handling dozens of civil cases from landowners along Beaver Creek who are owed money from the state.
A court in December 2011 ordered the Department of Natural Resources to compensate the landowners for flooding on their property caused by the West Bank spillway. The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the local court to determine compensation amounts for each landowner.
According to the Associated Press, more than 50 compensation trials are expected.
"With 40 some left to go, I'm not sure they'll all be completed by the time I finish my term," Ingraham said, adding he has about three years left to serve as judge. "I've got them (cases) scheduled into next year ... some are not scheduled, and there are a couple on the docket."
Ingraham said he's thought about asking some retired judges to handle the spillway lawsuits to lighten his case-load but hasn't yet pursued the option.
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