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Will Dallas Municipal Judges Be Booted From the Bench Because They Don’t Bring in Enough Fine Money to the City Coffers? Maybe.

Dallas isn’t immune to the national economic slump and those in the City of Dallas staff offices seem to looking everywhere for more money. Which is good, as long as they’re finding ways to be more efficient and productive with city budget money – but here’s the thing: in a recent Dallas city council meeting, staffers criticized Dallas municipal court judges because revenue-wise, the municipal courts weren’t bringing in as much money as the City of Dallas staff folk thought the municipal courts should bring in.

If you are wondering why a court, any court, should be considered a profit-center, you are not alone.

City of Dallas Staff Numbers

Seems that the staffers pointed out that there wasn’t enough money collected in the latest “warrant roundup,” and this boiled down to only 893 people busted in the Dallas roundup and an “average revenue per case of only $41.49… ” for Dallas (places like Austin are getting $60.26) in Class C misdemeanors. The staffers complained to the Council that the Dallas municipal court judges were almost always (96%) letting folk off with “time served” instead of pushing fines on them.

According to the staffers, during the last Dallas warrant roundup it cost the city $71,000 to make the roundup arrests for approximately $538,000 outstanding Class C misdemeanors.  The Dallas municipal court judges fined a total of $20,360 in the round-up and as of last week, only $2187 had been collected out of the fines that had been assessed. (Seems a lot of the judges were figuring that time spent in a Dallas jail for a Class C misdemeanor counted a lot toward adequate punishment, and that’s why there were not more fines being issued from the bench.)

Council Is Deciding on Who Sets on Municipal Court Benches Right Now – Will Money Talk?

Right now, the big thing about all this fine revenue business is that the Dallas City Council is currently in the process of deciding who presides in the 11 full time and 18 part time municipal judicial slots.   Their deadline is August 30, 2012: if the Council doesn’t make changes by then, the current judges stay in their jobs for another two years.

So, the City staffers are pushing this money issue as a factor in who sets on the Dallas municipal court benches.  And the independence of judges is at issue here.

Adminstrative Judge Responds – It’s About Justice Not Profits

Meanwhile, Administrative Judge Victor Lander isn’t setting back being silent here.  He went to the media, and pointed out the following:

1.  The judges were not invited to tell their side of the story to the Council.

2.  Courts are not in place as profit-making centers: they exist to dispense justice.

3.  Prosecutors are involved here, too — and the district attorney’s recommendation for time served usually forms the basis of the judge’s decision.

4.  Making judges meet a financial quota or forcing a revenue incentive on a court is beneath us all and will only result in Kangaroo Courts.

5.  There’s a bigger problem here regarding these warrants: police officers often fail to show up at municipal court to give needed testimony; another problem, all too often someone with outstanding warrants isn’t arrested when they are pulled over by the Dallas police.

For more of Judge Lander’s take on things, go here.

To learn more about warrants, and what happens when you have an outstanding warrant for your arrest, read about them on our Resources page.

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