Law librarians Debbie Smith, left, and Kim Crowthers
Batavia, Ohio – Tucked into a wing of the Clermont County Common Pleas Courthouse is the Law Library. Its 15,000 legal volumes and online resources are the domain of Director Kim Crowthers and library assistant Debbie Smith.
Not that Crowthers thinks of it as her domain. She is the first to tell you that she and Smith are there to serve their constituents – which include county government and all other jurisdictions within Clermont County – cities, villages and townships – that need legal resources and services. As well as, of course, judges, magistrates, prosecutors and public defenders. And, not least, the public.
“We provide equal access to justice,” Crowthers says.
“We provide equal access to justice,” Crowthers says. “We provide resources to both public defenders, whose clients are not able to afford an attorney, and the Prosecutor’s Office, allowing for more equal footing. And we provide resources to people who may technically be able to afford an attorney, but in reality can’t.”
The Ohio Revised Code (ORC) requires that every county have a law library, although in small counties it may only be a shelf or two of books. They are typically found at the county courthouse, to ensure easy access for judges, magistrates and lawyers. A law passed in 2010 required that law libraries permit access to the public, but Crowthers said that was a longstanding practice in Clermont County.
The library offers small conference rooms, which are frequently used by public defenders meeting with their clients. Its large conference room often is used for depositions, and for other meetings of a legal nature. “There is total privacy and confidentiality in this room,” she said. “There are no cameras or microphones.”
Crowthers and Smith are frequently on the phone or helping people face-to-face, answering questions and directing people to the right place.
“We get a lot of questions from local attorneys – can you send this specific citation to me, or provide this particular resource,” she said. “Judges will call us or come in if they need to consult the ORC or the rules of professional conduct; or if they need to check on civil or criminal procedures or Ohio jury instructions.”
Richard P. Ferenc, Administrative Judge of Common Pleas Court, acknowledges that the Law Library is crucial to the courts in Clermont County. “For over 80 years the Clermont County Law Library has been an integral partner in our county’s justice system,” he said. “It is the only county library that provides the critical legal resources judges, attorneys, and citizens require to make informed and thorough decisions.
“The library is able to provide these resources and services at a cost significantly lower than could any judge individually,” Judge Ferenc added. “As there are nine judges in the county that the library serves, the savings are indeed substantial.”
The library offers self-help books and legal forms.
As for the general public, the library offers self-help books and legal forms. “We get requests for power of attorney, health care power of attorney, expungement forms. We frequently get requests for specific motions, such as a motion for discovery,” Crowthers said. She and Smith are just as eager to help the public as they are the courts. “We can’t give advice, but we can point them in the right direction,” she said.
The staff prides itself on its user friendliness – in fact, that is in its mission statement. “I have a service-oriented heart,” Crowthers says. “I love being able to help people in as many ways as possible. I fell into the right job.”
Crowthers has worked at the Law Library for 30 years, having begun there part-time after leaving an unsatisfying job in banking. She learned under the tutelage of longtime director Carol Suhre, who retired late last year. Carol, said Judge Ferenc, transformed the library “from what one might call a ‘mom and pop’ operation into a state-of-the-art operation.”
Crowthers became director at the end of 2017, when Suhre retired.
Smith and Crowthers are just as eager to help the public as they are the courts.
Funded by fees, fines
The county Law Library is funded through a percentage of traffic fines and bond forfeiture fees paid to the county. Funding has declined over the years, Crowthers said, beginning during the recession. The operation is lean; staffing has gone from three to two. The 2018 budget is approximately $300,000, and of that, $170,000 is for legal resources.
All resources in the library are free to the courts and government staff, including copy and faxing services. The library does charge the public and outside attorneys for copy and fax services – although there is no charge for access to the library and its resources.
Even after 30 years, Crowthers’ dedication and enthusiasm for her job – and the mission of the Law Library – has not waned. “I have no doubt that Kim will continue to maintain the outstanding resources and services to the justice system that has become the hallmark of this most important county library,” Judge Ferenc said.
The Clermont County Law Library is open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. It is located at Common Pleas Courthouse, 270 E. Main St., Batavia. Phone: 513.732.7109.