Six years ago, Columbus attorney Alexander "Sandy" Spater filed a writ of mandamus lawsuit on behalf of Marietta resident Butch Badgett, seeking better access to Marietta's municipal court.
This week, Spater was finally able to tour the new municipal court facility that has resulted from that mandamus action. But he also noted work will still have to be done to bring the old court location up to standard.
"It's really great to see the fruition of that work. Many times in doing legal work you don't get to see the final results," Spater said as he sat in the room that, in a couple of weeks, will become Judge Janet Dyar-Welch's chambers.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Columbus attorney Alexander “Sandy” Spater, right, talks with Marietta Chief Probation Officer Dale Willson in the probation department’s office area during a tour of the newly-completed Marietta Municipal Court Tuesday afternoon. Spater helped file a 2006 writ of mandamus lawsuit that ultimately resulted in construction of the more accessible court facility.
The mandamus action, filed in October 2006, was to force the mayor and council to provide suitable municipal court accommodations as required by Ohio state law. Badgett maintained that the former court facilities were inadequate and not accessible for people with disabilities.
"The old court was in bad shape. There were leaks and not nearly enough rooms," Spater recalled. "And security for the court was nearly nonexistent."
Rather than file a federal lawsuit based on the court lacking accessibility mandated through the Americans with Disabilities Act, Spater and Badgett filed a mandamus action because the city court did not meet Ohio state court standards.
- November 2006-Marietta citizen Butch Badgett files writ of mandamus lawsuit to force the mayor and city council into providing municipal court facilities accessible to people with disabilities.
- May 2008-Fourth District Court of Appeals orders Marietta Municipal Court, City Council, and Badgett to work together to develop suitable accessible court facilities.
- August 2008-City appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio denied, city ordered to pay $60,000 to Badgett's attorney, Alexander Spater of Columbus.
- March 2009-Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar-Welch purchases the former Ohio Bureau of Employment Services building at the corner of Third and Butler streets to be renovated into the new municipal court.
- April 2010-City council approves $3.35 million in bonding for construction of the new court facility.
- June 2011-Construction begins.
- May 2012-Offices of city law director and probation department begin moving into new building.
- June 2012-Main municipal court offices expected to move into the facility by the end of June.
- August 2012-Final progress report on project expected to be submitted to the 4th District Court of Appeals.
Source: Times research
"The mandamus suit went through much quicker," Spater said. "A federal action would have taken a long time to complete."
The suit resulted in a ruling from the 4th District Court of Appeals in May 2008, requiring the city to provide the requested adequate municipal court facilities. The ruling ordered the council, court officials and city administration to work together on a suitable plan and file periodic progress reports.
City law director Paul Bertram III was serving as president of city council when the mandamus action was filed. He noted the push for better court facilities actually started long before the lawsuit took place.
"It was a long, drawn-out process," he said. "New court facilities were being discussed back in the 1980s, and again in the 1990s. But then the mandamus suit was filed by Mr. Badgett in 2006."
Bertram said work on the court facilities was long overdue, but the lawsuit served to speed up the process.
"When you get a court of appeals decision, you have to act on it," he said. "The ruling coalesced everyone into cooperating toward a common goal, and the project has been worked out through three councils."
Bertram noted the final progress report to the court of appeals would probably be filed in August, signaling the end of the mandamus action.
Badgett has not been able to visit the new court facilities, but said he's driven past the building and has been receiving weekly updates on the project.
"I think this has really been a good project all the way around," he said. "It's not only providing better access for people with disabilities, but it's also creating a good environment for employees. The city is getting more than its dollar's worth from this facility. And it will last for 50 to 75 years or more."
Badgett said he was glad to hear Spater finally got the chance to see the building.
"If it wouldn't have been for Sandy, I don't think any of this would have come about," he said. "And we did everything the way it was supposed to be done. I first asked the city to make the court accessible, but they said it couldn't be done, so we filed the mandamus suit."
Spater said he had never handled a writ of mandamus suit against a municipality, and would have preferred the city move to address the issue without such action.
"The very last step you want to take is getting a lawyer," he said. "That's really something you want to avoid."
But given the history of the case and attempts by more than one municipal judge to have new facilities built, Spater said everything just seemed to fall into place for a mandamus action to be filed.
"Now the city has a very functional facility that allows more people to have contact with the court," he said. "And when Butch filed this suit, it wasn't for himself, but to provide better court access for everyone."
Although the city law director and probation offices have moved into the new facilities, Dyar-Welch said it will be a couple of weeks until the main court offices relocate.
Both Spater and Badgett agreed that, once the court moves out of the current city hall location at 301 Putnam St., the city needs to begin efforts to upgrade accessibility to that building also.
"Basically nothing has changed much at city hall," Badgett said. "There are still issues like the front door entrance, restrooms, and access to the elevator. And it's going to cost some money to renovate that building, but it has to be done."
Spater said if something is not done the city could be liable for another lawsuit, this time seeking federal ADA compliance.
Davis Pickering Associates of Parkersburg are currently performing a preliminary study of the city hall building to determine how the vacated court space can be utilized, and what upgrades need to be done.