NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
DALLAS — Twenty-five thousand traffic warrants have gone unprocessed in Dallas since last October, according to Dallas' chief municipal judge.
The un-served warrants represent millions of dollars in potentially lost revenues from fines, and may have let thousands of traffic violators go unprosecuted.
"They got a free ride because the warrants have not been issued," Judge Daniel Solis told News 8.
The traffic warrant process works this way:
- Potential traffic violators are issued tickets by police officers.
- They have 21 days to pay the ticket or to contest it, at which point those drivers are given court dates.
- If those drivers don't show up for court... or if they don't pay their fine within 21 days... they are supposed to be issued warrants for their arrest.
Those warrants are supposed to be signed by 29 full and part-time municipal judges in the city. But for the past six months, those judges have signed virtually no traffic arrest warrants.
In the first two months of 2013, Dallas municipal judges signed 21,232 warrants, according to municipal court activity records.
In the first two months of 2014, those same judges signed just 518 warrants, a 98 percent decrease.
The reason: On October 1 last year, Dallas municipal courts computerized their traffic ticket system. The switchover, Judge Solis said, has not let judges create the paperwork needed to sign the warrants.
The average traffic fine can average $200, said attorneys who represent traffic violators in court. The City of Dallas does not net all of that money, but in aggregate, traffic ticket revenues can represent millions of dollars a year for the city.
Barry Bobbitt, whose firm represents many traffic clients in municipal court, said a warrant is often the extra "bump" a traffic violator needs to pay his or her fine.
"We have a warrant for your arrest, and we're coming to get you," Bobbitt said. "That's a big incentive for most people to pay their ticket."
Both Bobbitt and Judge Solis agreed that the longer a ticket fine goes unpaid, the less likely it is is to be collected.
Before the computer switch, Dallas judges were writing at least 7,000 traffic warrants a month.
Solis said the computerized change was mandated by the City Council and city manager before he became administrative judge in 2012. He said it will be a more efficient way of processing traffic ticket paperwork.
Judge Solis said he hopes the system will be fully functioning by October.
After starting to write warrants Tuesday for the first time since October 2013, he said judges are beginning to slowly work off the 25,000-warrant backlog, with each judge processing 25 a day.