WALWORTH — It didn’t take the Walworth Village Board long to create a second branch of its municipal court.
During the Feb. 10 village board meeting, the board unanimously approved the second branch and appointed Charles P. Hubertz as the judge.
Hubertz, a former village trustee and school board member, decided not to run again for those two positions in the spring of 2013.
After months of discussion at prior board meetings about Judge John “Jay” Peterson’s courtroom procedures, the board spent only a few minutes approving an ordinance creating the second branch.
“It is the intention of the village board ... that its municipal ordinances be enforced, that such enforcement be fairly administered in order to do substantial justice (and) that such justice be swift and economical to the taxpayers of the village,” the ordinance states. “The village board having determined, based on evidence presented and its own independent investigation, creation of the (second branch of the) municipal court would be in the best interests of the village.”
Branch one, the existing branch under Peterson, will have jurisdiction over zoning ordinances and parking tickets. Branch two, created on Feb. 10 under Hubertz, will have jurisdiction over all other past, existing, pending and future cases, according to the ordinance.
“Is there any desire to hear any more on this issue?” Village President David Rasmussen asked the trustees.
No one responded.
Rasmussen said Hubertz would appoint his own clerk, and salaries of the two court clerks would be discussed in closed session.
Peterson said Feb. 11 the decision wasn’t unexpected. He had no other comment, he said, because he hasn’t seen the full ordinance yet.
It’s only been a few months since board members started questioning Peterson’s court procedures.
Board members have said that Peterson is too lax in his approach on collecting fines. Defendants come into his courtroom saying they are indigent and unable to pay. Peterson does not make them sign affidavits proving their claims.
Peterson has said he’s not doing anything wrong.
On Feb. 4, Peterson told the Regional News “the money is all accounted for.”
“Tickets are being processed as required,” he said. “The court is running within the statutory guidelines.”
The problem, Peterson said, is that he cannot force someone who is on government aid to pay the fines.
“I follow the statutory definition of indigency,” he said. “If they’re receiving government assistance or their income is below the poverty level, I can’t make them pay.”
Rasmussen has said that Peterson has more discretion in the courtroom.
“There’s no bright line that says you have to classify them as indigent,” Rasmussen said Feb. 3, when looking up state statutes regarding municipal courts.
Since December, the village has not held court because Court Clerk Ellen Reddy resigned. Hubertz will face election in the spring of 2015. Peterson’s four-year term also ends in 2015. Peterson has said that he will run again when his term ends.