Published: Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Health official wants environmental court
One Hubbard Township case led to complaints from a township trustee.
By ED RUNYAN
WARREN Dr. James Enyeart, Trumbull County's health commissioner, says he and his sanitarians are frustrated by difficulties in getting the county's several municipal and district courts to enforce health department orders.
So he's campaigning for a new kind of court the environmental court.
"I'm not trying to take aim at anyone. I'm just trying to raise the issue that it's a waste of taxpayers' money," Enyeart said of the current system.
That system has the health department issuing notices of environmental violations and then following them up with filings in the courts to force violators to take action.
Enyeart said there is a growing backlog of cases that need court action, in part because not all of the courts take seriously issues such as septic system violations, illegal dumping, unsafe water wells and houses that are unsafe for habitation.
Another problem is that several of the county's municipal and district courts have differing requirements for filing such cases, and that makes it difficult to handle them efficiently, he said.
For instance, one court requires the health department to provide the Social Security number of the offender, something the health department doesn't have.
There tends to be a lot of inefficiency in the way health department cases are handled, Enyeart said, with sanitarians having to attend multiple hearings before the case is heard.
In one case, sanitarians tried to clean up illegal dumping in Hubbard Township by a repeat offender. A sanitarian filed a case against the person in Girard Municipal Court, but the case never got resolved there, Enyeart said. No one from Judge Michael A. Bernard's office could be reached to comment.
The continued problems with illegal dumping have led to complaints from a Hubbard Township trustee, who asked Enyeart why he's not doing his job.
Enyeart said the result is that sometimes residents are being forced to hire their own lawyer to have something done about environmental problems.
There are environmental courts in Franklin County, near Columbus, and in Youngstown, so there is no reason one couldn't be created in Trumbull County, Enyeart said.
Atty. Ronald Rice, judge of the county's Eastern District Court, has attempted to get the county's environmental court started but had limited success, said Atty. Bob Kokor, a legal adviser to the health board. He referred questions to Judge Rice, who did not return a phone call.
"We've been pitching for it for a while," Enyeart said, saying the attempt goes back to last summer.
One of the benefits of perhaps having the common pleas court handle environmental matters is that it has jurisdiction over the whole county, so one set of rules would apply to all, leading to consistent handling and one set of rules for sanitarians to follow, Enyeart said.