The authority of the county office of Prosecuting Attorney comes from Chapter 309 of the Ohio Revised Code. Under this chapter, the prosecuting attorney has authority to “inquire into” crimes committed within the county. The prosecuting attorney prosecutes or defends all cases arising within the county where the State of Ohio or a county official is a party. This includes both criminal and civil cases.
The Wood County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is composed of three main divisions. The Criminal Division, Juvenile Division and Civil Division each have a distinctive function and separate duty. The Prosecutor’s Office also provides victim/witness services and an array of other programming to assist in the overall goal of the office.
The most well-known aspect of the office, the Wood County Prosecuting Attorney’s Criminal Division prosecutes all felony offenses committed by adults in Wood County. Comprised of five criminal prosecutors and one full-time appellate attorney, the Criminal Division is the only agency in the county that prosecutes these most serious crimes. A felony is an offense that, generally, can result in a sentence of one or more years in prison. Misdemeanor offenses are generally less serious in nature than felonies and typically result in a sentence less than one year, typically served in a local jail facility.
The attorneys of the Criminal Division follow a case from beginning to end. Aside from some appearances in municipal court and most cases before the court of appeals, assistant prosecutors are assigned to a case and follow it from presentation to the Wood County Grand Jury through trial or other disposition. Under Paul Dobson’s administration, select attorneys generally focus on a specific area of criminal law. While all of the attorneys may be prosecuting the various types of crime, this focus allows the office to be on “cutting edge” of legal issues. This provides the attorneys an additional resource to assist with new or unique challenges in a particular case.
The three attorneys assigned to the Wood County Prosecuting Attorney’s Civil Division provide legal representation to the offices of Wood County’s sixteen elected county officials and the departments they oversee. Further, they represent many agencies within the county, such as Wood County’s libraries, the Wood County Health District, Wood County Job and Family Services, Wood County ADAMHS Board, Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and the Wood County Educational Service Center. Additionally, they represent many of the Wood County School Districts and eighteen of the nineteen Townships and their trustees and fiscal officers. These officials and agencies are set by statute as essentially the only “clients” the office may have. The civil division is not authorized to give legal opinions to individual citizens on private matters.
Representation of the public offices takes two primary forms. The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office directly represents the officials and agencies, acting as legal counsel during the negotiation or evaluation of contracts, advising them on specific legal matters, and prosecuting or defending actions involving the officials in state or federal court. Additionally, the county prosecutor’s office is often called upon to render a legal opinion as to a certain action or issue an official or agency is contemplating. In these instances, the attorneys of the Civil Division will research the issue and prepare a written opinion, setting out the office’s position on the issue and the legal basis for its advice.
The Juvenile Division of the Wood County Prosecutor’s Office has two main functions. The prosecutors in this division prosecute all juvenile (persons under the age of 18 years) offenders before the Wood County Juvenile Court, both felony and misdemeanor offenders. Like the Criminal Division, these prosecutors are assigned to a case from beginning to end, often preparing the charges themselves. In addition, the Juvenile Division can prosecute adults for misdemeanor level offenses with a child victim and has the exclusive duty to prosecute adults for contributing to the unruliness or delinquency of a minor.
The Juvenile Division performs diversions with at-risk youth and works with youth and their families to address issues within the home. The Division also works in collaboration with local law enforcement, schools and other agencies to help promote healthy lifestyle choices by minors and to proactively address issues facing the youth of Wood County.
In addition to these duties, the Juvenile Division prosecutes Abuse, Neglect and Dependency cases on behalf of the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services. These are cases where the child protection workers at WCJFS have determined that court action may be necessary to fulfill their mission of promoting the protection and safety of children, and the well-being of the family.