Court on Campus gives real look into judicial process

Sep 25, 2013

judge steve shuffAs the presence of local law enforcement officers dramatically increased, students who gathered in Herbster Chapel Monday to witness Court on Campus knew something major was about to take place. Those who entered the session went through a metal detector. Shortly thereafter, deputies escorted a man dressed in a bright orange prison jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled, into the makeshift courtroom.

As it turned out, Common Pleas Judge Steve Shuff was about to handle a hearing for a man accused of attempted aggravated murder. The pretrial and plea hearing was part of the judicial process for Calvin Dixson of Fostoria, who is accused of shooting and killing a woman and injuring another. He was indicted in July.

As part of the hearing, the defendant rejected a plea deal and the judge set Oct. 21 as the date for his jury trial. His bond was continued at $1.5 million.

The hearing was one of several that Shuff conducted on campus as part of Heidelberg’s observance of Constitution Day. Students witnessed other hearings concerning domestic violence, illegal possession of a firearm, receiving stolen property and drugs and early judicial release.

In a case involving an illegal firearm, Shuff accepted a guilty plea from a man charged with a third-degree felony and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Following the hearing, the judge explained the constitutional rights the man was giving up with a guilty plea.

Shuff also heard an early judicial release case involving a woman who had been incarcerated for two years and wished to be put in the Crosswaeh Community Based Correctional Facility, a program designed to help with education, employment and substance abuse issues. The woman had been charged with trafficking prescription drugs and was sentenced to four years and 11 months in prison. She earned her GED while incarcerated and also completed one semester of college while earning several different certificates showing how hard she worked. After hearing a statement from the woman, the judge granted her request for early release.

The courtroom was packed full for the morning and afternoon sessions. Between cases, Shuff stepped from behind the bench to take many questions from students, faculty and staff. President Rob Huntington asked for an estimate of how many people succeed after being incarcerated and/or after finishing the Crosswaeh program. Shuff estimated about 75-80 percent succeed and don’t return with another offense. However, he did make it clear he does not like to be guided by statistics and treats each case individually.

For many students, the event was their first-ever look inside a courtroom. Sophomore Stacey Hartley said, “It’s interesting to be able to see how court proceedings take place and how Judge Shuff explained what was going on. But by the same token, I had mixed feelings about seeing bright orange jumpsuit-clad individuals in cuffs being led in public on campus.”

When asked whether or not having open court on campus was a good idea, sophomore Kate Kuhajda said, “I think it’s a good idea because it gives students a chance to see an actual court hearing, not just something people simulated.”

Several other students mentioned that they’d like to attend in the future and learned a lot throughout the day.

— By Kristina Nye, ‘16