Coss gives common pleas court report


This is the 15th annual report prepared by judge Rocky A. Coss for the purpose of informing the public of the operations of the Highland County Common Pleas Court General and Domestic Relations divisions during the past year as well as comparing the case filings and activities of the court to past years.


Total case filings in 2022 increased approximately 10% from 2021. The total number of cases filed or reopened in both divisions in 2022 was 758 compared to 684 in 2021. Overall annual case filings had decreased annually since 2018. The increase was due to a significant increase in criminal and foreclosure cases.


There were 223 new and reopened criminal cases filed in the General Division in 2022 compared to 179 filed in 2021, which is a 25% increase.

These statistics are based on the requirements for filing case management reports with the Ohio Supreme Court. A new case represents arraignment on an indictment and a reopened case is one which had been closed prior to adjudication such as a defendant being unavailable after arraignment. The total number of cases does not include indictments that were filed in 2022 with the clerk but have not yet been served on the defendant. Also, it does not include cases bound over to the grand jury in which indictments were not returned in 2022. Therefore, there will be a variance between the clerk of courts’ case numbers and this report.

The statistics regarding criminal cases do not include any post-conviction proceedings in criminal cases such as probation violations, restitution hearings, modification of probation conditions, judicial release hearings, sealing of records, drug court sessions and other proceedings that occur in many criminal cases after they are closed for Ohio Supreme Court reporting purposes.


The Supreme Court has adopted time guidelines within which cases should be completed. For example, the time guideline for criminal cases is six months from the date of arraignment. The guideline for foreclosures to be complete is 12 months from date of filing and for most other civil cases it is 24 months. There have been no past pending criminal cases in the general division of this court since April of 2009 and no past pending civil cases since March of 2010. There have been no past pending cases in the domestic relations division since March of 2010.


Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the time guidelines for all types of cases were suspended for approximately two years. Many courts were unable to operate fully during that period and as a result are still dealing with case backlogs. Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, Highland County Common Pleas Court kept the docket current and had no cases that went beyond any of the time standards.


Foreclosure filings increased significantly in 2022 after the lifting of the CDC moratorium during the Covid-19 pandemic. Foreclosure 2021 filings were the lowest since 2003, with only 24 new and five reopened cases filed. In 2022, there were 66 new case filings and two reopened cases for a total of 68, which represents an increase of 134%. However, the five-year average for annual foreclosure filings is 63 cases which makes the 2022 number only 8% above that average.


Other civil case filings in 2022 decreased by 12% compared to 2021. There were 183 new and reopened civil cases filed compared to 202 filed in 2021. The five-year average for annual filings is 187 cases.


The court conducted five jury trials in 2022 compared to four in 2021. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the court had been averaging approximately eight jury trials per year since 2009.


There were 169 new cases and 117 reopened cases filed in 2022 for a total of 286, which represents a 4% increase from 2021 when there were 187 new and 87 reopened cases filed for a total of 274. The average number of annual case filings over the past five years is 303. Reopened cases include motions filed after a case was originally completed such as modification of child custody/parental rights, modification of child support, motions to enforce property issues in a prior decree or motions to cite for contempt of orders in prior decrees.


The New Way to Recovery Drug Court Docket received its three-year certification in December of 2019. The court received a renewal of its certification by the Ohio Supreme Court Commission on Specialized Dockets for an additional three-year period ending in December of 2025.

There are currently 32 active participants in the drug court docket. Since July of 2019, 73 offenders have been accepted in the docket. There have been 17 unsuccessful terminations since then and there are three participants who are currently non-compliant with active warrants outstanding. This constitutes a compliance rate of 73%. There have been 19 graduates to date with an additional 14 participants scheduled to graduate in April of this year.

Due to the number of offenders in the drug court docket, the court conducts drug court docket sessions on both mornings and afternoons of the second and fourth Fridays of each month so that the sessions will be shorter and allow more time for review of individual participants’ cases. Drug court sessions are open to the public but are not live streamed.

Several changes were made to the drug court program in 2022. The docket now consists of four phases but still requires a minimum participation period of 18 months to graduate. Participants are randomly drug tested frequently with those in the first and second phases being tested at least two to four times per week. Participants are assigned a window of time in which they are required to call in daily including weekends to learn whether they are to be tested that day. If they are selected for a random test, they have a limited window of time to report to be tested. They also participate in intensive outpatient treatment and receive other programming and rehabilitative services through the probation department and other drug court treatment team member agencies.

The drug court docket has an annual specialized docket state subsidy of $75,000, an annual Addiction Treatment Program Grant of $75,000 and a Justice Reinvestment Incentive Grant of $242,928 for the 2022-23 biennium state budget. All of these funds are used for drug court staff and treatment programs for the participants.

The court continues to utilize local outpatient substance abuse treatment providers and inpatient programs including the Lynn Goff House for women in Greenfield and the Massie House for men in Jackson Township. Out of county providers utilized include the STAR community-based corrections facility in Franklin Furnace and residential treatment facilities in Pike, Ross, Scioto and Adams counties. To date, most of the drug court participants have begun in residential treatment and are then placed in transitional housing and re-entry programs. The drug court advisory committee and treatment team continue to work with local groups to develop additional sober living houses in Highland County for participants as they complete residential treatment and return to the community to continue their rehabilitation.


In 2022, the court conducted 134 video hearings through its courtroom teleconferencing system primarily in cases in which defendants are incarcerated in prisons throughout Ohio. The court implemented the use of Zoom technology for remote hearings in 2021. During 2022, the court conducted 587 Zoom hearing sessions in the general division many of which involved multiple cases. The domestic relations division conducted 106 hearings by Zoom.

Remote hearings constitute more than half of the court proceedings in the general division and are used not only in criminal but also civil and domestic relations cases. The utilization of remote technology allows parties and attorneys to save both time and expenses but avoiding travel time and parties having to take off work to appear for brief hearings. It saves the county sheriff’s office significant expenses in transporting defendants from prisons throughout Ohio to the court, as well as transport of defendants in the Highland County Justice Center almost daily. In many instances, the parties and attorneys request hearings be conducted by Zoom rather than in person.

The court’s audio-video recording system allows the court to live stream the proceedings in the general division on You-Tube. This was necessary to meet the constitutional requirement that court proceedings be open to the public during the Covid-19 pandemic safety measures that were adopted by the court which limited the number of persons who could be in the courtroom during proceedings. The proceedings are recorded and are generally accessible for viewing online. Domestic relations cases are not live streamed.

Live streaming proceedings has also increased the public’s access to court hearings. The court’s You-Tube channel currently has 582 subscribers. The most viewed live streamed hearings are usually jury trials which have had 80 or more viewers during a single trial. During jury trials, the recordings are not accessible to ensure that witnesses and others cannot view them in violation of the separation of witnesses rule. After the trial is completed, the recordings are made public once the trial is completed and can be viewed by the public.


The common pleas court judge is the appointing authority for the Highland County Probation Department. That department has been very successful in obtaining a number of grants for the county to provide probation supervision and treatment of offenders who are placed on community control for felony and misdemeanor offenses. They provide funding for probation and treatment services to adult offenders with substance abuse and mental health issues sentenced from common pleas court, Hillsboro Municipal Court and Madison Township County Court.

For the 202-23 biennium, the department has state grants totaling over $949,000 to provide for supervision and treatment services for felony and misdemeanor adult offenders in the county.


Thanks to the efforts of clerk of courts Ike Hodson, the county commissioners have approved funding of upgrades in the court’s case management system and servers that will allow the implementation of a voluntary e-filing system. E-filing is now accepted in civil cases and the court intends to expand that to criminal cases and domestic relations cases by the end of 2023. E-filing allows the electronic filing of documents directly with the case management system and eliminates the need for the clerk’s office to copy and mail out copies of many documents in the file.


The court’s 2022 general fund budget was $277,248. The actual general fund expenditures for the year were $250,627 which was 10% under budget. Each year since 2009, except for 2010 when a capital murder case required large expenditures of unbudgeted expenses, the court has spent less than the amount appropriated for general fund expenses. For an historical comparison, the court’s 1998 general fund budget was $218,296.88.

This story was submitted by Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss.

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