The Judge's Notes - September, 2017

09-15-2017

COMMON PLEAS COURTUPDATE: Heather Spinks and TCAP

  As I approach the conclusion of my seventh year on the bench, there are a few things happening at the Court that may be of interest.

  First, the Court hired Heather Spinks to replace Brooke Bookless as the Court’s Pre-Sentence Investigation Director in July, 2016. Brooke moved to Columbus, Georgia where she works as a Parental Accountability Court Coordinator.  She married Sgt. Derek Jimenez, 75th Ranger Regiment, on June 10, 2017. 

As you may remember from our previous article in Due Diligence, the job of PSI Director was designed for the simple purpose of writing presentence investigations.  However, the job soon transformed into probation officer duties, and managing a special drug court docket that we named Recovery Court. Since Heather assumed control over the Court’s intensive supervision and special docket program in July, 2016, more responsibility has been added to her many job duties. 

While her duties are officially Pre-Sentence Investigation Director, Probation Officer and Recovery Court Administrator, Heather is also called upon to provide impromptu life counseling.  For this mother of three, straight talk is not a problem.  “I can relate to their struggles when it comes to getting by. There were times in my life when the kids wanted something but I needed gas in the car to get to work, and there wasn’t enough money for both.  The gas tank got filled.  So I tell my people bluntly, that I “get it,” and then I tell them that there is a way for them to solve the problems they are facing, but it’s going to involve making sacrifices to get it done.”  Heather’s experience as a former Wal-Mart asset protection manager, with specialized training in interview and interrogation, has also helped her develop a reputation among the felony offenders she supervises.  Heather explains, “Usually at some point during their time here, I catch them lying about something, and have to ask if they really think I’m that stupid. Once they know that I can get to the truth, things go a lot easier.”

Second, Heather’s responsibilities are increasing significantly due to a new grant program from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction known as TCAP.  “Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison” is Ohio’s most recent effort to reduce dangerous levels of prison overcrowding.  As part of TCAP, the Common Pleas Court will receive a grant totaling $169,480.00 over two years.  The purpose of the grant is to keep offenders convicted of a 5th degree felony, which is the lowest level of felony offense, from entering the prison system.  The conditions of the grant do not apply to a fifth degree felony that is an offense of violence, a sex offense, a drug trafficking offense, or if an offender has previous convictions for felony offenses of violence or felony sex offenses.

How will the grant impact sentencing in the Common Pleas Court?  The number of prison sentences handed down by the Court is rising, with 47 prison commitments entered through the first six months of 2017. Compare that number with the Court’s total prison commitment numbers for prior years:

2011= 51

2012= 50

2013= 62

2014= 69

2015= 68

2016= 82

From this basic analysis, it is easy to see that our local trend is consistent with increasing state-wide incarceration rates.  Also, 17 of the 82 prison sentences in 2016 were for 5th degree felony offenses.  Therefore, TCAP will probably result in less felony offenders from Coshocton County entering the prison system in 2018.

This is where Heather steps in.  She will work closely with our local Adult Parole Authority officers, and several agencies such as Coshocton Behavioral Health Choices and AllWell to provide an intensive felony supervision environment for low level offenders.  The grant funds received from TCAP will be spent on items such as medication assisted treatment, GPS monitors, drug testing, and employment placement services.  Our experience from Recovery Court shows that if you get them clean, and get them started in the right direction, offenders want to work.  Once they get into the workforce, low level felons are not likely to reoffend.  In the end, we believe that TCAP grant money and a lot of hard work will ultimately make our community a safer place.  If we don’t see results, then we will not reapply for the grant. The only thing I can guarantee is that we will give it our best effort.

  Robert J. Batchelor, Judge

The Judge's Notes - June, 2015

06-29-2015

As the summer rain dampens our outdoor activities, the courthouse lawn pays no attention.  Some much needed fertilizer and care has provided us with a fuller and thicker lawn.  Judge France and friends are also well into the season of flowers.  Please feel free to come by and stroll through the court square.  I think that you will find a walk through the shade trees and the summer bloom to be a rather peaceful and enjoyable experience.  That is, of course, if you can find a dry sunny day.

Indoors, the court docket plows forward with the exception of an annual summer lull.  This brief vacation interval usually means less court news, but I grin as the Supreme Court's recent decisions come to mind.  I eagerly defer local headlines and social media focus to the US Supreme Court.  Interestingly, I have already received requests to perform marriage ceremonies.  Regretfully, I cannot perform marriages.  I am flattered that anyone would want me to perform such a task, but the bottom line is that Ohio law does not allow Common Pleas Court General Division Judges to perform marriages.  No one has ever explained why, but I assume its because we do the divorces.  I am sure Judge France and Judge Blanchard will be available to perform official ceremonies upon request.

Just as the rain can be a curse or blessing depending on your point of view, so it is with the decisions that come from the Supreme Court.  The blessing for us is that we live in the United States of America, where you can express your opinion without fear of arrest or worse.  As ISIS attempts to cling to power by executing those who disagree, America becomes stronger through public debate and discourse that comes from our freedom of speech.  Even though you may not agree with every decision that is handed down from the high court in Washington, D.C., the fact remains that you may still vocally support your point of view.  That is freedom, and it is something that we should keep in mind as we weather a new series of SCOTUS decisions ranging from gay marriage to health care and the death penalty.  Once again, in an era of fear and intolerance exemplified by organizations such as ISIS, America stands as a beacon of freedom and hope for all.  We are still "The People" and there is still "Justice for All."

If you get tired of voicing your opinion and arguing about Supreme Court decisions, please mark your calendar to come and visit during our open house on August 1, 2015 from 4-7.  Music, food and tours of the courthouse are on the docket!  More information will be coming.  Have a great summer!!!!

The Judge's Notes - October, 2014

10-21-2014

In an era of constant change and concern, the Courthouse remains an anchor of tradition in our community.  A walk along the courthouse lawn, among the autumn hues, provides a sense of peace and strength. Along the same line of thinking, perhaps the best cure for a case of Ebola hysteria is a trip to the apple butter stir, or the Warsaw chili cook off.  Maybe even a hayride and a haunted house.  The more things change out there, the more we need to strengthen our sense of pride and tradition.  That's another reason why the Grand Lady is worth saving.   Bids for the renovation of the courtroom ceiling and balcony have been opened.  The contracts will soon be signed, and we will be embarking on the construction phase.  Please feel free to stop by.  I plan on providing hard hat tours whenever possible.  You might want to call first.  May God bless you and keep you, as you enjoy the remainder of 2014.

-Robert J. Batchelor, Judge 

Continuing Changes in the American Legal Experience

01-22-2014

Law School Enrollment Declines

01-22-2014