Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Village struggles with unpaid fines

by Jade Bolack

November 14, 2013

WALWORTH — If all traffic violators paid their fees to Walworth, Village President David Rasmussen said the community could have three newly paved streets.

“There is a standard that is being applied to determine whether or not people should pay tickets quickly,” Rasmussen said at the Oct. 14 village board meeting. “Maybe it would be appropriate ... for the police to ask people they pull over if those people are receiving any form of public assistance. If so, (the police can) say ‘Gee, I’m very sorry for pulling you over and wasting your time. It’s not worth it for me to write you a ticket.’”

Walworth Municipal Court Clerk Ellen Reddy wrote in a 2011 letter there was a sizeable reduction in revenue generated by the court.

“This is NOT (sic) a result of fewer tickets being written but because a greater percentage of violators are given indefinite amounts of time to pay,” Reddy said in the letter dated September 2011.

Reddy said those violators that were allowed additional time to pay were found “indigent by the court.”

“The court will be adopting new policy guidelines ... that clarify court procedures and will strengthen the court’s method of collecting fines,” the letter states. “We have also designed new payment plan requirements to ensure that violators stick to their agreed-upon payment amounts and reduces the number of times they are called back to court.”

This year, through Oct. 10, the village has more than $77,700 due in outstanding municipal fines. This is more than 43 percent of the total $178,860 in fines due to the village.

Rasmussen said he couldn’t believe that many drivers are indigent in Walworth.

“I don’t see that many cars (that are in bad condition),” he said. “Yet 40 percent of people who are ticketed are found indigent ... that means 40 percent of the people who drive through Walworth are indigent.”

Judicial discretion

Police Chief Chris Severt said it was up to the municipal judge, John Peterson, to determine who could pay fines.

“The judge has ... judicial discretion on how he collects fines,” Severt said. “(The defendants) come back for a status hearing. (Peterson) asks if they’re collecting any state aid. If so, he lets them go.”

Severt said neither the court nor the police check if the violators in court are on state aid.

“(The police department) has a form to prove reception of state aid,” he said. “The judge is not making them fill it out.”

While the police can give tickets, Severt said it is not up to the department to collect fines.

“It’s not the police department’s job to check the court and see how they handle it,” he said. “We make our arguments.”

Severt said he’s frustrated with the whole process.

“We know that while they’re sitting in court, (the defendants) are on their smartphones,” he said. “They get their nails done. They’re smoking cigarettes before they come in. We point that out to the judge each time. He doesn’t care.”

Rasmussen said the judge has a different philosophy from the village board.

“I think he has a philosophy of traffic regulation that isn’t shared with very many people in the village,” he said. “We reduced the revenue in the budget (for 2014) by $30,000 because that’s what we had to do. We just aren’t collecting the revenue from fines anymore.”

Peterson, who practices law at AAA Bankruptcy in Williams Bay, could not be reached for comment.

He was re-elected in an unopposed race in 2011 and is serving a four-year term.