Facing Your First Mayor's Court Hearing? What Can You Expect?

Posted on: 17 May 2016

If you've recently been cited for a traffic or ordinance violation and summoned to appear in one of the Buckeye State's many mayor's courts, you may be nervous about your first court appearance and wondering exactly what will happen. Fortunately, these courts are more informal than trial courts and can often allow you to represent yourself -- although there are a few situations in which you may want to enlist the help of experienced counsel to best protect your rights. Read on to learn more about the procedures, laws, and regulations that govern these courts, as well as some of your options when having your case tried in a mayor's court.

How will your mayor's court case proceed?

Mayor's courts are a special type of court created by an individual municipality to hear certain types of cases -- generally traffic infractions, ordinance violations, and misdemeanor offenses like DUI. Because these types of cases can comprise a great deal of the court docket in certain counties, mayor's courts are designed to streamline this process by segregating these more minor actions and leaving the "heavy lifting" of serious felonies and complex civil actions to the county's trial courts. 

When your case is filed in mayor's court, you'll receive some certified documents, including a summons that instructs you to be present at the court at a certain date and time. A bailiff or other court employee will call your name, and the prosecutor or a city official will summarize the charges against you. You'll then be given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, call your own witnesses, or even provide testimony on your own behalf. 

In some cases, a verdict may be handed down immediately. In others, you may receive a written order or verdict a few weeks later. If you choose to appeal this verdict, your case will be redocketed in the county's municipal court and the process will begin anew.

Can you have your case tried by a jury in mayor's court?

Because mayor's courts are not considered "courts of record" and appeals from these courts require the case to be re-tried, jury trials are not available in mayor's courts. However, many traffic infractions and ordinance violations tried in these courts do allow a jury trial, and those charged with a criminal misdemeanor always have the constitutional right to have their case heard by a jury. 

Mayor's courts are overseen by a hearing officer appointed by the mayor. These hearing officers are not required to be attorneys, although they are required to undergo some specialized training put on by the Ohio Supreme Court. As a result, if your case involves some nuanced legal issues and you're unsure about the appointed hearing officer's ability to accurately ferret out these issues and come to the right conclusion, you may want to request that your case be heard by a jury rather than an individual judge.

If you choose to proceed with a jury trial rather than a bench trial, your case will be transferred to the municipal court in the county where the mayor's court is located. 

Because a jury trial can be complex -- even on a relatively minor matter -- it's important to seek legal counsel from a mayors court attorney if you're planning to request a jury trial. Even if, after consulting with an attorney, you determine you'd rather proceed on your own, you'll be aware of any potentially complicating issues you'll need to anticipate or defenses you may be able to raise.