By Judge Bruce Winters
We here at the Ottawa County Common Pleas Court believe we have a duty to better inform the public about the legal system. To that end I will be providing informative articles to be published on a periodic basis.
My name is Bruce Winters and I am the Judge of the Ottawa County Court of Common Pleas General and Domestic Relations Divisions. I have worked in public service since 1975 when I began with the Oak Harbor Police Department. I subsequently served as a probation officer for the Ottawa County Juvenile Court, and as Ottawa County assistant prosecuting attorney.
I served as a Magistrate in this court and was elected Judge and began a six year term in 2009. I also ran a private law office for 21 years before becoming Judge. I am married and have two children. I have lived all my life in this community.
While it is improper for me to discuss any specific case, I will cover topics of general interest. I will also answer questions posed by readers so far as they do not relate to a specific case. Some topics I intend to cover are: an overview of the Ottawa County Court of Common Pleas, the duties and authority of the court, how a case comes before the Court and the steps to resolution in both civil and criminal cases. I will explain jury duty for grand jurors and petit jurors as well as the role the jury plays in a trial, both civil and criminal. I will explain criminal sentencing, diversion, intervention in lieu of conviction, probation, local jail time, prison time and other alternatives to traditional sentencing. I think you should know about “Drug Court” and explain what the Court is doing to address the issue of drug related offences. I will discuss foreclosure, divorce and dissolution, class action claims and more. I am very interested in your questions as well.
Perhaps the best way to begin to explain our Court is to tell you what we do and what we don’t do. The General Division of our court hears criminal cases which are felonies. Felony cases are those for which the punishment can be a year or more in prison, the more serious criminal offenses. Many of these cases are drug offences, thefts and cases involving physical harm.
We also hear civil cases, that is “money” cases where the amount asked for is in excess of $15,000. These can be automobile accidents, foreclosures or property disputes. The Domestic Relations Division hears divorce and dissolution cases, child support and custody matters where the parents have divorced or are divorcing. The Domestic Relations Division also hears Domestic Violence Protection Order petitions and Stalking Protection Order petitions.
Other duties of the General division include appointment of board members to the Veteran’s Commission, the commissioning of Notaries Public and appointment and budget approval of other conservancy districts and boards.
I do not hear Juvenile cases, probate cases (the administration of wills and estates) and do not determine paternity, custody or support in those matters. I do not hear misdemeanor matters (less serious criminal and traffic matters) or small claims or bankruptcy cases. That said, we often find ourselves in situations where litigants have cases pending in more than one court and on occasion the orders of one court impact the other. In other instances, cases may be transferred from one court to another.