Dallas Council panel wants more money from courts

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on June 19, 2012 at 5:52 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 19 at 6:19 PM

DALLAS — When you get pulled over, or receive any other kind of ticket in Dallas — like a code violation — do you pay up?

A study by the city manager found that 36 percent of all tickets over a random five-day period in 2010-11 budget year were ignored, with many of them later dismissed.

For those who fight them in court, the chances of dismissal or a small fine are pretty high.

Allen Hoggatt didn't need to read a city study to know the problems at Dallas municipal courts, after many calls and no success paying his traffic tickets online. We found him waiting in line to pay his tickets.

"Really frustrating... long," he said. "I don't know what else to tell you, it's been a real pain."

Hoggatt is among the few who actually pay.

A city study found last year more than one-third of those ticketed ignored them, and among those who challenged them in a court, there were a high percentage of dismissals.

Some City Council members in a committee that oversees the courts indicated Tuesday they'd heard enough.

"We have some fundamental problems within our court system," said Council member Angela Hunt.

The courts made some improvements by reducing wait time at windows and cutting court setting times. But electronic citations and improved attendance by police officers haven't happened yet.

Dallas lags behind other cities in fines per case.

"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," said Council member Delia Jasso.

But the court's administrative judge, Victor Lander, sounded defiant after sitting in on the briefing and hearing talk of courts making more money.

"The court is not a revenue-generating entity," Lander said. "It is there to ensure that justice is done in this community."

Setting quotas for tickets or fines is against state law, but changing judges is not.

Some Council members say they'll keep the revenue and efficiency problems in mind when judges are up for reappointment in August.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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