Portage County courthouse could expand to address family issues
Two Portage County Judges Call on County Commissioners to Expand Ravenna Courthouse to Streamline Family Matters
Currently, Portage County Domestic Court Judge Paula Giulitto handles family cases involving married couples, while Juvenile Court Judge Patricia Smith handles cases in which people have children but are not. brides.
On Thursday, the two judges approached Portage County commissioners to make changes so Giulitto could handle all family matters, such as custody, child support and visitation.
“Families have changed dramatically,” Giulitto said. In many cases, she said, children are born without the parents being married. Later, she says, many parents marry another person and have other children. At the end of this marriage, she said, they will be able to go to her court. But if they need to go to court for the children born before this marriage, then it becomes complicated.
Giulitto said it would be easier for families if his court dealt with all cases, whether the parents were married or not. This is the case in Summit County, which has changed its regulations. She has already spoken to the Ohio Supreme Court on the matter.
But for that to happen, Giulitto said, she needs the “blessing” of the commissioners and an expansion of her space in the courthouse.
Meanwhile, Smith, whose workload has increased dramatically, needs more space for the estate court, which she also oversees. The juvenile court is located near the juvenile detention center in Shalersville.
The Ravenna courthouse expansion would extend two floors over the small parking lot behind the courthouse, which is used by the Portage County Sheriff’s Office to bring inmates to court and as a parking lot for judges. The parking lot itself would remain, although a space or two would be lost.
Giulitto hopes the project will be completed by 2023. In addition to the additional space, she said she needs another magistrate and two staff.
JoAnn Townend, county internal services chief, said she contacted an architect about the project who had worked on the courthouse in the past.
Smith said 28% of the cases on his record involved issues such as custody, visitation and child support. The juvenile court deals with dependent, neglected and abused children, all cases of trafficking in minors, delinquency and unruly offenses, while the inheritance court deals with marriage licenses, administration of estates, adoptions and guardianship of children and adults with disabilities.
An expansion of the clerk’s office several years ago did not include the probate court, she said, and the office “appears unfinished” and lacks the security enhancements the rest of the clerk’s office has received. Additionally, Smith said, Giulitto’s court is better equipped to deal with family issues.
“I don’t have the staff to respond to these families as effectively as they should be,” she said. “We are not serving the people of Portage County as effectively as we should be.”
Giulitto said the change would only change Doherty’s office, who told her she was fine with the change as long as she didn’t waste space.
She said during the COVID-19 pandemic, her court had to scramble to find another space because the rooms were so small there was no room for social distancing.
“I think we owe it to residents to make sure justice is not delayed or denied because of a pandemic,” she said.
Journalist Diane Smith can be reached at [email protected]