ELYRIA — Attorney Mike Camera sued Lorain Municipal Clerk of Courts Lori Maiorana on Thursday over the $150 fee her office charges those seeking to have criminal case files sealed.
Camera said state law mandates that the application fee to have a criminal case expunged must be $50.
“I don’t know how it could be clearer,” Camera said.
According to the section of the Ohio Revised Code dealing with expungements, $30 of the $50 fee is sent to the state treasury, while the remaining $20 goes either into the county’s general fund if the case dealt with a violation of a state statute or into a city’s general fund if the case involved a violation of a municipal ordinance.
Maiorana said that the $150 fee was set by Lorain Municipal Court judges Thomas Elwell and Mark Mihok several years ago to help defray the cost of expungement proceedings, which involve research, sending out certified letters and other expenses. Elwell and Mihok did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.
Maiorana said Camera has complained about the $150 fee for months and the issue has been discussed with Lorain Law Director Pat Riley, who said Thursday he still needs to research the law surrounding the issue.
He said he didn’t want to expend resources researching Camera’s criticism unless a lawsuit was filed.
“Now we’ll have to do the research,” Riley said.
Camera said the lack of action when he complained to Lorain officials, including the judges, about what he sees as a violation of the law is what led him to file the lawsuit.
“They’re going to do it until someone stops them,” he said.
Lorain Municipal Court isn’t alone in Lorain County in charging more than $50 to apply to have a case file sealed.
Avon Lake Municipal Court Judge Darrel Bilancini did not return a call seeking comment, but the Avon Lake Municipal Court’s website lists the application fee for an expungement as $75.
In Elyria Municipal Court, the filing fee is $50, but Chief Deputy Clerk of Courts Matt Krosse said the total charge for such cases is $115 when another $65 worth of court costs are added to the bill. Among those costs are a $3 legal research fee, a court security fee of $12 and a facility fee of $31, Krosse said.
He said Elyria’s interpretation of the law is there’s nothing barring local courts from tacking on court costs to expungement cases. He said all court actions require those involved to pay court costs in one form or another.
“All we’re trying to do is cover our costs,” he said.
But Camera said there’s nothing in the law that says courts are allowed to charge more for the expungements than the $50 set out by statute. If court officials don’t like it, Camera said, they can ask the state Legislature to change the law, but they can’t simply ignore Ohio law.
Camera said he likely will file additional lawsuits against Elyria and Avon Lake municipal courts to bring them into compliance with state law.
“I just want the clerk of courts to follow state law,” he said.
Kate Lenz, staff attorney for Lorain County Clerk of Courts Ron Nabakowski, said her office’s legal interpretation of the law has long been that they aren’t allowed to charge more than $50 for an expungement case, even though it costs far more than that to cover the costs of the legal proceedings.
“We have looked at the statute and in our opinion, that is the fee,” Lenz said.
The county’s other two municipal courts, in Oberlin and Vermilion, also charge $50, according to court officials in those jurisdictions.
“We charge the statutory fee,” Oberlin Municipal Court Judge Thomas Januzzi said, although he added that he hasn’t researched the issue enough to comment on the lawsuit.
Camera, who has asked that he be paid legal fees, said that it might be appropriate for Lorain Municipal Court to reimburse those who have been overcharged in recent years.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147