When the owner of a problem property says the problem has been solved and the prosecution says it has not, Franklin County Environmental Court Judge Daniel R. Hawkins has a simple solution:

When the owner of a problem property says the problem has been solved and the prosecution says it has not, Franklin County Environmental Court Judge Daniel R. Hawkins has a simple solution:

He reconvenes the case at the location.

Hawkins, who has held the post for a little more than two years, was the special guest speaker at last week's monthly meeting of the Northwest Civic Association.

"It's the only court like it in the state," Hawkins said.

He noted that what are also called "environmental courts" in Cleveland and Toledo deal almost exclusively with housing issues while his also has jurisdiction over zoning, health, waste collection, animal control and animal abuse code violations in not only all of Franklin County but also in portions of municipalities that stretch into adjoining counties.

The Franklin County Environmental Court, which handles both civil and criminal cases, was created 23 years ago.

The law that brought the court into being was written by then Ohio Sen. Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr., now the city attorney but also the first person to become judge of the court he initially envisioned.

Hawkins, former head of the special victims unit for the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office, is the third person to be environmental court judge.

He was appointed by Gov. John Kasich to succeed Harland H. Hale in July 2012 and then was elected to fulfill the unexpired term.

Since his court deals in specific kinds of cases, Hawkins said he is able to try to find ways to resolve problems, rather than just mete out punishment to the guilty party or determine who is right and who is wrong in civil litigation.

Hawkins said he hears between 600 and 1,000 cases a month, although that figure has been on the increase since the beginning of the year.

He said his is the busiest court in Franklin County and probably one of the busiest in the country, but he's been able to avoid a backlog of cases.

In Environmental Court, unlike the homicides and rapes he used to prosecute, the crime is still going on, according to Hawkins. Often it's not a matter of who did it, but what's to be done about it, he said.

Two initiatives are in the offing for Franklin Country Environmental Court, the judge told NWCA trustees and those in attendance.

One is an interactive map which Hawkins hopes is up and running by the end of the year. It would allow people to go to the court's website and keep track of any pending cases in their neighborhood.

"Some of these properties, they're not just eyesores," Hawkins said. "I think of them as crime magnets. They need to be dealt with, and that's why I try to move these cases along as much as I can."

The other initiative is a joint effort with the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County and Southeast Inc. recovery and mental health care providers to help people who suffer from a hoarding disorder, according to the environmental court judge.

"It's a serious problem, not just for the people living in the house, but for the neighbors and the first responding police officers," Hawkins said.

Not long ago, the judge added, a South Linden resident died in a blaze in his house because firefighters were unable to reach him through the trash and debris.

A treatment program for hoarders would be the first court-centered one in the country, according to Hawkins. He said that often fines simply do not work in trying to get people with the disorder to obey health and safety regulations, but possibly probation to encourage participation in mental health counseling would.

"We're going to take it one step at a time," the judge said, noting that probably only 10 cases would be heard as a trial run, most of those in the Franklinton area.

Hawkins ended his remarks by noting he is a native of Columbus who is happy to have a job that allows him to help his hometown.

"I love this job because it's amazing to see the impact you can have on a community," he said. "I know that sounds kind of corny."