South Euclid Municipal Court Judge Gayle Williams Byers resigns abruptly after turbulent decade

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio — South Euclid Municipal Court Judge Gayle Williams Byers has stepped down from the bench after a decade in which she was in frequent public disagreement with the city administration over its handling of court cases.

Byers, who announced Friday that she would be “retiring/resigning” effective Sunday, touted the opening of the Cuyahoga County Suburban Municipal Court’s only mental health case and the reinstatement of the City’s Night Court. town.

Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer contacted Byers on Monday for comment.

Harry Field, a retired judge who was appointed to replace Byers from October 1 to December 31 last year while Byers was on leave, presided over the court on Monday as acting judge, the gatekeeper said. city ​​floor, Keith Ari-Benjamin.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine will appoint Byers’ replacement. When that will happen remains unclear, Ari-Benjamin said.

Byers, elected in 2011, became the court’s first black judge when she took office in 2012.

Ari-Benjamin said the city council passed a resolution in February asking state lawmakers and the Ohio Supreme Court to consider closing the court and merging its operations with one of the courts. neighboring municipalities. This is the second time the Council has adopted such a resolution, he said.

“The fact that Judge Byers has retired or resigned doesn’t change that,” Ari-Benjamin said. The city council is awaiting a response from the state legislature on next steps.

Mayor Georgine Welo and the city council began to question Byers’ use of public funds to travel to conferences in 2014. The city also accused her of not properly reconciling her 2019 budget and putting jeopardize the rating of the city’s bonds.

Byers accused the city administration of targeting her because of her race, because she reduced the court’s use of fines as punishment and because she asked for an increase in the city’s budget to fund operations. of the court.

Byers filed several lawsuits against the city over the budget disputes.

The latest battle took place in late 2020 and early 2021, when city officials accused her and the court of failing to respond to phone calls and emails from people who had cases in court. . Police officials said people would come to the city building that housed both the court and the department looking for a court.

When the court was closed, they went to the police window to complain.

The department began handing out cards telling residents that the Supreme Court of Ohio governs the municipal court and to direct their complaints there. Byers caught wind of the practice and ordered the city’s new police chief, Joe Mays, to stop handing out the cards and send him an email every week saying he had complied with his order.

When he refused to send the email, she then scorned him and sentenced him to 30 days in jail, to be served over the weekend, according to the court docket.

Byers, however, gave Mays the opportunity to “serve” the sentence by sending him weekly emails stating that the department had not issued any cards.

Mays sued, seeking to stop Byers from enforcing the order.

The case, as of Monday, was set for oral argument in Ohio’s 8th District Court of Appeals on Wednesday, but Mays and Byers requested that the hearing be postponed.

Melissa C. Keyes