By James F. McCarty,The Plain Dealer | January 06, 2010 | Cuyahoga County government, Real Time News

Judge Diane Palos has taken over the administration of Cuyahoga County’s troubled Domestic Relations Court less than a year after her appointment to the bench. Palos, elected by her fellow judges to manage the court’s affairs, replaces Timothy Flanagan, who served for 26 years as administrative judge before retiring at the end of last year, five years before his term was completed. She inherits the top job at a court mired in turmoil.

The Ohio Supreme Court conducted a rare review of the divorce court’s five judges last year, and issued a highly critical report on the way they conducted business. The high court handed down 90 recommendations, citing the court’s failure to resolve contested divorces within recommended time frames and the practice of some judges to assign trouble-filled cases to visiting judges and to hold fragmented trials and court hearings. The report also criticized Flanagan’s leadership, planning and communication skills. Flanagan at the time said that he had no authority to order his colleagues to work harder or faster. He also disputed just about all of the high court’s findings. But before retiring, he said he and his colleagues had cleared a backlog of cases, making the docket one of the most current among the state’s largest courts.

Palos, appointed by Gov. Ted Strickland last March to fill a court vacancy, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that she has worked extensively with the Supreme Court and expects that smooth relationship will continue during her tenure as administrative judge. “There were a lot of things the court thought should be done immediately, and other things that should be done over time,” she said. “We’re continuing to work on those recommendations and will maintain a continual flow of information.” One of Palos’s first priorities will be to appoint a full-time mediator in a move to resolve contested cases without combative, time-consuming and costly trials.

To me, this is a great opportunity to do all of things we’ve always wanted to do here,

Palos said. “The judges and I are on the same page wanting to make the court more mediation oriented. Everybody here is supportive of family law.” Palos previously worked for 25 years as a magistrate and staff attorney in the domestic relations court. Strickland still must appoint Flanagan’s replacement to the five-judge divorce court.