Sole common pleas judge in Adams County calls proposal to add counterpart into question
Ohio legislators amended a bill Tuesday that would establish a second judge in the Adams County Court of Common Pleas on an emergency track, after the court’s longtime—and only—judge testified he was never contacted about the possibility of a new colleague in the courts he presides over.
Proponents of House Bill 283, including sponsors Reps. Justin Pizzulli (R-Scioto County) and Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland), argued a dire situation in the juvenile division necessitates another judge in the county with a population of about 27,400. Ohio counties with even fewer residents, such as Vinton County, have at least two judges, they said.
Under the current structure, Adams County Court of Common Pleas Judge Brett Spencer oversees the county’s common pleas, probate and probation divisions and its juvenile courts. The amendment introduced and enacted Tuesday ensures he still has jurisdiction over certain courts through the end of his term, Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Uhrichsville) said.
Spencer said during earlier testimony in November that he’s not necessarily against the idea of having another judge around—but was surprised to learn that the state’s highest court believed he was all for the idea.
“The first I knew about this legislation was a phone call from the Supreme Court of Ohio, (from) a very helpful young lady,” Spencer said. “She said she had received a letter from Rep. Pizzulli that we wanted a new judge, and I was very much in favor of this. I listened patiently, and then I explained I did not know anything about it, had never been contacted and I was not in favor of what she was telling me.”
When Spencer then attempted to contact Pizzulli, the freshman lawmaker never reached back out, he said—aside from an aide thanking the judge for being an HB 283 proponent.
In fall 2022, voters reelected Spencer. He beat out current Adams County Commissioner Barbara Moore by a slim margin of 2.24%, which totaled about 300 votes, according to secretary of state election data. In Ohio, most judicial elections are nonpartisan. But Spencer, a registered Democrat in a heavily-Republican county, testified he believes HB 283 is motivated by partisanship.
“Each and every one of those people that have proposed, as proponents, were very vocal advocates for the defeated opponent,” he said. “This is a mulligan, if you would.”
Schmidt argued later in the hearing that some residents of Adams County, which was part of her former Congressional district, have been asking for this for years.
“I just want to correct the record,” she said.
Numerous members of the civil justice committee, prior to Spencer’s testimony, cited data showing that the court’s caseload had actually lightened over the last decade.
Adams is one of a handful of Ohio counties that elects just one judge to its court of common pleas. All judicial additions and removals go through the General Assembly, according to the Ohio Revised Code.