The Cleveland Municipal Court is the oldest court in the state and one of the largest. Municipal courts handle traffic, misdemeanor and felony cases. The Cleveland court has 12 judges who are randomly assigned cases. In 2022, more than 45,800 cases were filed in municipal court. On average, each judge handled 3,819 new cases. 

In Cleveland, housing cases, including evictions, are handled in a separate Housing Court.

Eleven candidates are running for four open judge seats in Cleveland’s municipal court, which also serves Bratenahl. 

What qualifications does a municipal judge need to be elected?

Judges must be licensed attorneys who have practiced law for six years (and they must have been licensed to practice in Ohio for at least a year). Trial experience is not required. This means it is possible for a judge to preside over a trial without ever having argued a case during a trial. 

How long is a municipal judge’s term?

Municipal court judges are elected to six-year terms, which are staggered so not all judges are elected at the same time. 

How much do municipal judges get paid?

In 2023, municipal court judges made $148,775. The salary is set by the state and is the same for all judges. The cost is split between local taxpayers and the state. 

A photo of an officer standing in front of the counter at the Cleveland Municipal Court.
Voters have the chance to shape Cleveland’s municipal court with the upcoming judge race in November. Credit: Dakotah Kennedy / Signal Cleveland

What kinds of cases do municipal courts handle?

Traffic cases

Have you ever gotten a traffic ticket? If you tried to fight it, you likely appeared in municipal court. You can pay your traffic tickets online, but some people show up in traffic court to defend themselves against the ticket. Magistrates, who work for the elected judges, often hear traffic cases. 

Municipal courts also handle cases involving license suspensions and other, more serious traffic-related offenses such as driving under the influence. 


A criminal charge that can range from a low-dollar theft to domestic violence. The consequences can include: Up to six months in jail, probation, community service or a fine.


A criminal charge that carries more serious consequences. Such cases include burglary, drug trafficking, robbery or murder. The consequences for a felony can include a year or more in prison, probation and fines. 

Criminal cases

Municipal courts handle court appearances for misdemeanor cases and some initial hearings for felony cases. Most defendants make their first appearance before a judge in municipal court, where bail is set. 

Felony cases–unlike misdemeanors–can include what’s called a preliminary hearing. These hearings are like mini-trials where the state presents evidence and a judge decides whether there is enough evidence for the case to move forward. Defendants can also skip a preliminary hearing and have a grand jury consider charges in their case. Felony cases are transferred to a county court for trial.

Special dockets

Cleveland Municipal Court has what are called specialized dockets for cases related to domestic violence, addiction and mental health. The goal is to help address the issues that led to an arrest in order to keep people out of jail and prevent future crimes. 

Civil cases 

Unlike criminal cases, which can be punished with jail time, civil cases are usually about money. 

Cleveland Municipal Court judges make decisions in civil cases where the dispute is about $15,000 or less.

For example, if a person damages another person’s car, the owner may go to court to settle the dispute. A person found responsible can be ordered to pay damages. 

What else?

The judges also officiate wedding ceremonies.

Do municipal judges preside over trials?

Yes, but only for misdemeanor and civil cases. 

Can municipal judges send people to jail?

In a criminal case, yes. Municipal judges can deny people bail and hold them in jail while they are awaiting trial. 

If a defendant is found guilty of a misdemeanor, a judge can sentence them to up to six months in jail. Judges can also choose to impose probation or community service.

Who’s on the Nov. 7 ballot?

Seat 1:

Joseph F. Russo

Jazmin G. Torres-Lugo [current judge]

Seat 2:

Jocelyn Conwell

TJ Dow

Joanna N. Lopez Inman

Bridget M. O’Brien

Seat 3:

Timothy W. Clary

Shiela Turner McCall [current judge]

Seat 4:

Jeff Johnson

Mark R. Majer [current judge]

Heather McCollough

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Service Journalism Reporter (she/her)
Dakotah is a journalist and audio producer dedicated to untangling bureaucracy and providing power (information) to the people of Cleveland. She spent 10 years on the frontlines of direct service working with youth and system-impacted communities before receiving her master's in media advocacy from Northeastern University. Dakotah is part of the Community team whose mission is to listen and amplify the issues Clevelanders care about most.