Dallas City Council Threatens to Replace Judges Over Low Citation Revenue

Report shows city has low fines, collections on citations compared to other North Texas cities

View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    A new report shows dismal collection rates for citations issued by the city of Dallas.

    Dallas city leaders laid down the law Tuesday for Municipal Court judges over a report showing dreadful income from citations.

    City Council members, who appoint Dallas Municipal Court judges, threatened to replace them in interviews coming up in August.

    "If they do not reflect the same enthusiasm for making these important changes for making our courts more accessible, more fair and more efficient, then colleagues, this council member will not be supporting them, these judges," Councilwoman Angela Hunt said.

    Dallas Municipal Court mostly handles traffic citations, as well as code violations and misdemeanor criminal cases.

    A report presented to a council committee on Tuesday compared the average citation fines in Dallas to those in other cities. It also compared income from cases that went before Dallas judges to those handled directly by the court clerk's office.

    The average Dallas citation brought $41.99, compared to Irving's $104.34, Arlington's $98.90, Richardson's $83.95, Garland's $80.34, Austin's $60.26 and Fort Worth's $53.93. Only San Antonio, with average citation fines of $38.52, was lower than Dallas.

    "We've got to take swift action, aggressive action, and help our judiciary understand that we don't want to be at the bottom of the list any longer," Councilwoman Delia Jasso said.

    State law forbids quota systems for municipal courts and police citations.

    "The court is not a revenue-generating entity," Chief Municipal Court Judge Victor Lander said. "It is there to be sure that justice is done in this community."

    Council members said they are not asking for quotas but expect the court system and its judges to produce more money.

    In the 2010-2011 Dallas City budget year, court clerks directly handled 69,772 citations with a face value of $9.8 million, bringing in $8.6 million for $4.7 million in expenses.

    In that same time, Municipal Court judges handled far more citations -- 214,218 -- with a face value of $33.2 million. But the judges brought in just $1.7 million in income for $9.8 million in expenses.

    The city spent $71,000 to conduct the 2012 Dallas warrant roundup, which included 2,043 citations against 893 defendants.

    After defendants were given credit for jail time served after arrests, their fines were reduced to $20,360 and only $2,187 has been collected so far, the report showed.

    "I think it's extremely clear from this presentation that we have some fundamental problems with our court system," Hunt said.

    Lander agreed the system has problems but strongly disagreed that judges are to blame for it.

    "We have a court notify system that doesn't notify the officers," he said. "We have officers that don't show up."

    Lander said many people who insist on appearing before a judge do so because they are not guilty -- and so the overall income from cases handled by judges is likely to be lower.

    "It's not as if the judges are just going out and dismissing these cases," he said. "The prosecutors first look at the cases and then they make recommendations."

    Lander also said Dallas Municipal Court has a much larger caseload than courts in nearby cities.

    "You can't compare Dallas to Irving," he said. "You just can't do it -- at least not fairly."

    Lander's objections were not heard at the briefing where council members received the report on court performance from city staff. He said he was not invited to speak but attended the meeting to listen.