Coshocton County Common Pleas Court Coshocton County Common Pleas Court en-us The Judge's Notes - September, 2017


  As I approach the conclusion of my seventh year on the bench, there are a few things happening at the Court that may be of interest.

  First, the Court hired Heather Spinks to replace Brooke Bookless as the Court’s Pre-Sentence Investigation Director in July, 2016. Brooke moved to Columbus, Georgia where she works as a Parental Accountability Court Coordinator.  She married Sgt. Derek Jimenez, 75th Ranger Regiment, on June 10, 2017. 

As you may remember from our previous article in Due Diligence, the job of PSI Director was designed for the simple purpose of writing presentence investigations.  However, the job soon transformed into probation officer duties, and managing a special drug court docket that we named Recovery Court. Since Heather assumed control over the Court’s intensive supervision and special docket program in July, 2016, more responsibility has been added to her many job duties. 

While her duties are officially Pre-Sentence Investigation Director, Probation Officer and Recovery Court Administrator, Heather is also called upon to provide impromptu life counseling.  For this mother of three, straight talk is not a problem.  “I can relate to their struggles when it comes to getting by. There were times in my life when the kids wanted something but I needed gas in the car to get to work, and there wasn’t enough money for both.  The gas tank got filled.  So I tell my people bluntly, that I “get it,” and then I tell them that there is a way for them to solve the problems they are facing, but it’s going to involve making sacrifices to get it done.”  Heather’s experience as a former Wal-Mart asset protection manager, with specialized training in interview and interrogation, has also helped her develop a reputation among the felony offenders she supervises.  Heather explains, “Usually at some point during their time here, I catch them lying about something, and have to ask if they really think I’m that stupid. Once they know that I can get to the truth, things go a lot easier.”

Second, Heather’s responsibilities are increasing significantly due to a new grant program from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction known as TCAP.  “Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison” is Ohio’s most recent effort to reduce dangerous levels of prison overcrowding.  As part of TCAP, the Common Pleas Court will receive a grant totaling $169,480.00 over two years.  The purpose of the grant is to keep offenders convicted of a 5th degree felony, which is the lowest level of felony offense, from entering the prison system.  The conditions of the grant do not apply to a fifth degree felony that is an offense of violence, a sex offense, a drug trafficking offense, or if an offender has previous convictions for felony offenses of violence or felony sex offenses.

How will the grant impact sentencing in the Common Pleas Court?  The number of prison sentences handed down by the Court is rising, with 47 prison commitments entered through the first six months of 2017. Compare that number with the Court’s total prison commitment numbers for prior years:

2011= 51

2012= 50

2013= 62

2014= 69

2015= 68

2016= 82

From this basic analysis, it is easy to see that our local trend is consistent with increasing state-wide incarceration rates.  Also, 17 of the 82 prison sentences in 2016 were for 5th degree felony offenses.  Therefore, TCAP will probably result in less felony offenders from Coshocton County entering the prison system in 2018.

This is where Heather steps in.  She will work closely with our local Adult Parole Authority officers, and several agencies such as Coshocton Behavioral Health Choices and AllWell to provide an intensive felony supervision environment for low level offenders.  The grant funds received from TCAP will be spent on items such as medication assisted treatment, GPS monitors, drug testing, and employment placement services.  Our experience from Recovery Court shows that if you get them clean, and get them started in the right direction, offenders want to work.  Once they get into the workforce, low level felons are not likely to reoffend.  In the end, we believe that TCAP grant money and a lot of hard work will ultimately make our community a safer place.  If we don’t see results, then we will not reapply for the grant. The only thing I can guarantee is that we will give it our best effort.

  Robert J. Batchelor, Judge

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 13:19:24 -0400
The Judge's Notes - June, 2015 As the summer rain dampens our outdoor activities, the courthouse lawn pays no attention.  Some much needed fertilizer and care has provided us with a fuller and thicker lawn.  Judge France and friends are also well into the season of flowers.  Please feel free to come by and stroll through the court square.  I think that you will find a walk through the shade trees and the summer bloom to be a rather peaceful and enjoyable experience.  That is, of course, if you can find a dry sunny day.

Indoors, the court docket plows forward with the exception of an annual summer lull.  This brief vacation interval usually means less court news, but I grin as the Supreme Court's recent decisions come to mind.  I eagerly defer local headlines and social media focus to the US Supreme Court.  Interestingly, I have already received requests to perform marriage ceremonies.  Regretfully, I cannot perform marriages.  I am flattered that anyone would want me to perform such a task, but the bottom line is that Ohio law does not allow Common Pleas Court General Division Judges to perform marriages.  No one has ever explained why, but I assume its because we do the divorces.  I am sure Judge France and Judge Blanchard will be available to perform official ceremonies upon request.

Just as the rain can be a curse or blessing depending on your point of view, so it is with the decisions that come from the Supreme Court.  The blessing for us is that we live in the United States of America, where you can express your opinion without fear of arrest or worse.  As ISIS attempts to cling to power by executing those who disagree, America becomes stronger through public debate and discourse that comes from our freedom of speech.  Even though you may not agree with every decision that is handed down from the high court in Washington, D.C., the fact remains that you may still vocally support your point of view.  That is freedom, and it is something that we should keep in mind as we weather a new series of SCOTUS decisions ranging from gay marriage to health care and the death penalty.  Once again, in an era of fear and intolerance exemplified by organizations such as ISIS, America stands as a beacon of freedom and hope for all.  We are still "The People" and there is still "Justice for All."

If you get tired of voicing your opinion and arguing about Supreme Court decisions, please mark your calendar to come and visit during our open house on August 1, 2015 from 4-7.  Music, food and tours of the courthouse are on the docket!  More information will be coming.  Have a great summer!!!!

Mon, 29 Jun 2015 12:11:25 -0400
The Judge's Notes - October, 2014

In an era of constant change and concern, the Courthouse remains an anchor of tradition in our community.  A walk along the courthouse lawn, among the autumn hues, provides a sense of peace and strength. Along the same line of thinking, perhaps the best cure for a case of Ebola hysteria is a trip to the apple butter stir, or the Warsaw chili cook off.  Maybe even a hayride and a haunted house.  The more things change out there, the more we need to strengthen our sense of pride and tradition.  That's another reason why the Grand Lady is worth saving.   Bids for the renovation of the courtroom ceiling and balcony have been opened.  The contracts will soon be signed, and we will be embarking on the construction phase.  Please feel free to stop by.  I plan on providing hard hat tours whenever possible.  You might want to call first.  May God bless you and keep you, as you enjoy the remainder of 2014.

-Robert J. Batchelor, Judge 

Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:09:47 -0400
Continuing Changes in the American Legal Experience

Wed, 22 Jan 2014 15:48:34 -0500
Law School Enrollment Declines Law
2014: Paring Back at U.S. Law Schools Continues

Wed, 22 Jan 2014 15:42:55 -0500
Prison Overcrowding Strikes Again After several attempts at felony sentencing reform in Ohio, the General Assembly's latest attempt to reduce the prison population has brought about a different result.

Read More at......


Fri, 20 Dec 2013 10:55:00 -0500
A Victory for Justice and Common Sense!!! On December 19, 2013 the Ohio Supreme Court issued a case announcement affirming the 1990 conviction of Sandra Griffin and dismissing her most recent appeal. Read the opinion at


Fri, 20 Dec 2013 10:24:55 -0500
The Judge's’ Notes  

Phrases such as “We the People” and “Justice for All” signify a society of equality that commands an open government, a government that is subjected to the will of its citizens. Although the openness of our government and its continued success may be the subject of much debate, the public debate itself is proof that the great experiment of our founding fathers is still alive and well as we celebrate our 237th birthday.

The spirit of open government is the basis of this website.  The singular purpose of the website is to make the court more accessible to the people it serves.  As you navigate the website, you will note several areas of explanation from jury service to divorce proceedings.  There are also forms and news on legal topics of interest.  I hope the end result is a more informative experience. 

Finally, remember that this website is also an effort to help simplify a complicated legal system. There will be mistakes and oversights, so please have patience with the growing pains as the website moves forward.

Special thanks to Lynette Dotson, our website consultant,and the County IT department, who made this project possible.

Also, please feel free to take advantage of the numerous events on the Courthouse grounds, and admire the landscaping work done by Judge France and the Rotary Club.  Have a great summer!

- Judge Batchelor

Sat, 01 Jun 2013 01:43:07 -0400
Opinion recap: Easing the leash on speech Conceding that it is hard to draw the constitutional line, the Supreme Court on Thursday attempted once more to spell out when the government may use its money to try to control what people are allowed to say if they take the money.  Between the lines, the opinion seems to say that those who get the money can keep getting it even if what they say does not square with the government’s program goals. They just have to pay for such contradictions with their own money.

If that is the true meaning of the decision in Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International (docket 12-10), free speech under the First Amendment has made something of a gain.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.’s opinion for a six-to-two majority said that the government cannot impose a condition on receipt of government funds in a government program if that forces private groups to publicly express views on an issue that parrots the government’s views but is not what those groups themselves believe or want to say.  That, the opinion said, is a form of “leveraging” money to compel unwanted speech, and the First Amendment frowns on that.

The decision leaves no doubt that the government can tell such groups that they cannot use the federal funds they accept to cover the costs of speaking out in contradiction to the government’s views.  Such a restriction, the Chief Justice indicated, assures that the funds do not underwrite the contrary views.  But when the government seeks to control the recipient’s views on the policy issues, that pushes beyond the program’s limits and violates the First Amendment, the opinion concluded.

Here is the way the Chief Justice put that point: “By requiring recipients to profess a specific belief, the [command of what they can say] goes beyond defining the limits of the federally funded program to defining the recipient.”

It is one thing, the opinion said, for the government to refuse to underwrite opposing policy views by organizations seeking public funds.  It is something else, it added, when the government goes beyond and seeks to conscript an organization into being a policy mouthpiece for the government, even if that contradicts its own views.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing in dissent for himself and Justice Clarence Thomas, said that “the real evil” of the ruling was that it barred the government from demanding a commitment from those who get public funds to carry out the policy views that are essential to the program.  “One can expect, in the future, frequent challenges to the denial of government funding” when the government seeks to further a specific ideological program, the dissent suggested.

The ruling dealt with a federal law implementing a large government program of trying to eradicate the global scourge of AIDS.  The government provides funds to groups that carry out, overseas, specific programs to reduce the risky behavior that is believed to help spread the deadly disease.

One of the conditions the government sets for getting any funds — and this was the only condition at issue before the Court Thursday — is that any organization getting federal funds must state that the organization explicitly opposes prostitution or other forms of sex trafficking.  In other words, the mandate compels the organization to publicly oppose any move to legalize or even to tolerate prostitution.

The organizations that challenged that mandate do not themselves actually favor prostitution or any other form of sexual exploitation, but they want to publicly remain neutral on that as a policy question.  If they declare themselves opposed, they argued, that will make it harder for them to work with at-risk groups like prostitutes, because the would-be helpers will be seen as adversaries.

Because of the government mandate, though, they simply were ineligible for any federal funds unless they publicly echoed the government’s anti-prostitution policy declaration.  Lower federal courts found that would probably violate their First Amendment rights of free speech, and the Supreme Court’s ruling established that it was, indeed, an unconstitutional condition.

The Court rejected an argument that the Obama administration had made in attempting to salvage the policy view mandate — that is, that an organization could get funds while following that mandate, but then set up an affiliate organization that would not share in the funds but could express whatever views it wished.

Such a two-organization approach, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, is sufficient as a First Amendment matter only if the organization is allowed to exercise its free speech rights “outside the scope of the federal program.”  But this won’t work, the Chief Justice added, when the organization getting the funds must “espouse a specific belief as its own.”  There is no alternative forum where it can state its views if they do not exactly square with the government’s, according to the ruling.

The policy declaration mandate, the opinion said, “goes beyond preventing recipients from using private funds in a way that would undermine the federal program.  It requires them to pledge allegiance to the government’s policy of eradicating prostitution.”

The Chief Justice’s opinion was supported by Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Sonia Sotomayor.  Justice Elena Kagan did not take part, presumably because she had had something to do with the case in her former post as U.S. Solicitor General.

This decision, in plain English:

In 2003, as part of a broad federal effort to try to stop the spread of the AIDS disease worldwide, and to treat those already affected, Congress created a broad program of preventive, educational, and treatment programs, providing billions of federal dollars that private organizations would use to carry out the effort in specific activities overseas.

Because Congress believed that several forms of sexual trafficking, including prostitution, contributed to the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus, the 2003 law specified that any organization getting funds under the program must declare as its own policy view that it opposed prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation.

Some of the private groups taking part in the program, however, have believed that, if they got out in public as themselves opposed to prostitution, it would inhibit their chances of working with prostitutes and with other at-risk groups.  While they do not themselves favor prostitution, they wanted to remain neutral on the matter, but that neutrality would not satisfy the mandate of the program to have an organizational policy against such sexual activity.

They contended that the funding condition sought to control their points of view, in violation of the free-speech guarantees of the First Amendment.  The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed with that argument.  It is one thing, the Court said, for the government to forbid these organizations to use the federal funds they receive to pay for public policy expressions that contradict the government’s policy goals, but it is another to try to take control of their right to frame and express their own views.  Such a viewpoint control approach, the Court concluded, is an invalid form of coercing private speech, and that violates the First Amendment.

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Tue, 21 May 2013 02:16:33 -0400
A sketch artist’s day at the Court U.S. Supreme Court sketch artist Art Lien provides an interesting view of his day at the Court.

My day at the Court begins early. Arriving a couple hours before I have to take my seat in the courtroom allows me time to warm up with a quick sketch or two of whatever strikes me as interesting. It may be lawyers lining up to be admitted to the bar, or Justice Kagan getting her morning coffee in the cafeteria. In the next few weeks I’ll certainly be sketching the early morning line outside the building waiting for the big end-of-term decisions.

At 9:30 I take my seat in one of the alcoves to the left of the bench. From there I’ll see Clerk Suter chatting with the lawyers I sketched earlier who are now seated; I’ll see other lawyers who are standing and greeting each other; I’ll see visitors looking up at the friezes, pointing out Moses and Hammurabi. All great subjects for a sketch. But very often I’ll use this time, especially if it’s a big story, to get a head start on the “wideshot” –  the scene-setting sketch of the entire bench, columns, lawyers, press, and public. At this stage all I can do is the architecture, but as the reporters begin to file in and take their seats on the benches in front of me I add them to the wide shot. Every bit helps, because I won’t have time to pay attention to those details once things get under way.

If there are opinions I’ll usually sketch a partial bench highlighting the Justice delivering the opinion. And of course, if a Justice reads a dissent from the bench I’ll capture that as well.

The real work is covering arguments. In addition to the wide shot, or in a really big case the “wide wide shot,” I need sketches of each lawyer, sketches of certain Justices, and maybe also some partial bench shots depicting the Justices’ body language.

I used to concentrate on the lawyer at the lectern, trying to capture him or her as best I could. To do that, the best seat is in the first alcove closest to the bench. The problem with that seating, though, is that part of the bench is obstructed and you can barely see Justices Breyer, Thomas, and Scalia. Lately — and I do mean lately, I’m a very slow learner — I’ve come to realize that it’s the questions from the Justices that make the story. As a result I’ve moved to the further alcove — which, while limiting my view of the arguing attorney to three-quarters of the back of his or her head except when the questions come from the extreme left side of the bench, allows me to see all of the Justices.

Another thing I’ve learned is how much it helps to have at least a passing familiarity with the case that is going to be argued. Often I would be asked how the arguments went and I had no idea, because I was too busy drawing. I still have a hard time following most arguments, but a little reading ahead of time has helped immensely.

After the arguments are over, I still have a good two or three hours’ worth of work ahead of me to finish the drawings, adding color and making sure I got Justice Sotomayor’s silver bangles or the right jabot on Justice Ginsburg. All of the male Justices get red ties all the time; that’s artistic license.

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Tue, 21 May 2013 02:13:20 -0400
Ohio Court News ]]> Sun, 17 Jul 2011 19:22:52 -0600