Mayor's Court - Hanging Rock, Ohio

Presented By

Bonnie M. Wells

NewsChannel 3 investigated accusations against a small town.

The mayor of Hanging Rock, Ohio, is accused of violating the Constitution and he may have to defend himself in court.

NewsChannel 3's Michael Wooten found out many Ohio towns could be affected by one local woman's crusade.

It's a complicated case involving very big issues like separation of powers, justice and small town politics. But it boils down to this, does a mayor have the power to serve as judge and jury when deciding legal matters like speeding tickets.

The small village of Hanging Rock, Ohio, has a dubious distinction.

When asked whether Courtney Johnson believes Hanging Rock is a speed trap, she said yes. "They like to sit right over here under this underpass and just wait for you."

Last year, she was near that underpass when an officer pulled her over.

"They got me for all this stuff that I just didn't do. They said the roads were icy and they were clear. They said that I almost caused a wreck in moderate traffic, and there were just three vehicles on the road."

The bigger controversy, once you're ticketed in Hanging Rock, the case goes before the mayor's court.

Mayor Chris Davidson also serves as the judge and jury.

Karen Lahr found that to be outrageous and illegal.

So she filed a lawsuit, saying the mayor "has abused and is abusing and ignoring the Constitution of the United States of America." And a federal appeals court seems to agree.

In 1999, it ruled mayors cannot serve as judges, because they have an inherent conflict of interest.

A study by the Ohio Supreme Court shows Hanging Rock, population 279, had nearly 2,000 cases last year in mayor's court.

That's an average of nearly 700 cases per 100 people. The third highest rate of any town in Ohio.

At mayor's court Thursday night, the mayor had no comment.

He was polite and said he would sit down with WSAZ NewsChannel 3 after the legal issues are over.

The Ohio Supreme Court is pushing for a bill that would ban these mayor's courts.

Right now, it's in the judiciary committee in Columbus.



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