Council Says Yes to Municipal Court
Left, SPPD Chief Kevin Ruder and Assistant Chief Marty Skibba both say a city municipal court will provide a more satisfying sense of justice for defendants. (City-Times photo)
By Brandi Makuski
City leaders Monday unanimously approved an ordinance creating a municipal court and paving the way for a third branch of city government.
The court would have authority over ordinance infractions, including traffic violations, disturbing the peace and first offense OWI. City leaders say the court would alleviate an overburdened county circuit court system and give residents a greater sense of justice and personalized service.
“You’re moving democracy back to the people,” said Police and Fire Commission President David Schleihs. “We’re creating a third branch of government here and that’s kind of historic. You’re moving it to a more responsive level, so that increase in democracy to the citizens you represent is the most important thing you should walk away from here tonight with.”
The court was included in the 2014 budget but Council Members voted to remove it because they did have enough information on the costs or potential procedure involved for defendants.
Since then Council Members have seen a budget breakdown of expected costs and potential revenue as well as procedural accounts from a municipal court clerk in Wisconsin Rapids. District Court Administrator Ron Ledford has also appeared before the Council several times to explain the legal function and authority of the courts.
Ledford, who oversees more than 20 court systems, said all that’s truly needed for the new court system is “a chair and a table.”
“This court also provides a great deal of flexibility for defendants and officers,” Ledford said. “You could include a night court once a month and, say, three dates a month for a daytime court.”
Stevens Point Police Chief Kevin Ruder, who says he’s been researching a possible municipal court for over ten years, says based on his research the new court would need one part-time judge and one full-time clerk. He put initial startup costs at about $95,000 which include personnel and software.
“Based on the number of tickets we (the city) wrote in 2012, we would see additional revenue of $188,000 a year,” Ruder said last week. “When you look at the overscheduling in the circuit court, I mean, this is a no-brainer. We could get defendants in an out so much more quickly and they would have much more personal service. They’d have a greater sense of democracy.”
City Attorney Logan Beveridge said defendants can opt to take their case to the county circuit court for a de novo: a “redo” appearance before a circuit court judge with no connection to city court decisions if they are unsatisfied with their experience before a municipal judge.
The ordinance calls for an oversight committee consisting of the mayor and two City Council Members as well as Plover Administrator Dan Mahoney and one Plover Board Member. Mayor Andrew Halverson said that committee will be responsible for appointing the municipal court judge until 2016, at which point the judge will be elected every four years. That committee would also have a hand in the budgeting process annually but little else, he added.
The Village of Plover will also participate in the municipal court and is expected to pass the ordinance Wednesday during its monthly board meeting at 6 PM at the municipal center.