EXCLUSIVE: Judge says he quit over speeding ticket quota

Calvert sits in the middle of a triangle of towns in Central Texas which statistics show are huge ticket-writers.

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

First, it was the "Dirty Thirty," a line of four towns along a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 45 south of Dallas that issue a high volume of traffic tickets.

Now, welcome to the "Texas Triangle" – a group of small towns in Falls and Robertson counties southeast of Waco that are also in the ticket game, according to a longtime municipal court judge who said he quit over what he described as a ticketing quota system.

Revenue generated from tickets pays for a lot of small town police departments in Texas. Without ticket income, some couldn't afford a police force.

"Normally, when they pull you over for safety, they ask the 'safety' kind of questions. They ask you for insurance; they check your tags. This was none of that," said Don Shaheen, one of the thousands of Texans who got speeding tickets in April.

Instead of being concerned about safety, he said the officer just wanted to write a ticket and then get on to the next one.

"This guy just took my license, gave me a ticket, and — you know — that was pretty much it," said Shaheen, who got a ticket in Palmer.

That was one of the towns we identified as being in what we dubbed the "Dirty Thirty" last month.

After that story was broadcast, we were contacted by a retired municipal court judge with a story to tell.

"When I first became a judge, we had one reserve officer," said David Viscarde. "That's all he did on Friday and Saturday every other weekend. He'd write 100 citations."

It was Viscarde's job to handle the aftermath of that tidal wave of speeding tickets.

For more than 15 years, he was a volunteer municipal court judge in the small town of Calvert in Robertson County, about an hour southeast of Waco. Calvert sits in the middle of a triangle of towns in Central Texas which statistics show are huge ticket-writers.

Lott on Highway 77, and Franklin and Hearne on nearby Highway 79 are included.

"Their municipal court is their cash cow," Viscarde said about Calvert.

He told News 8 that he quit as judge there because he was getting pressure from city officials to push speeding tickets through court.

"The pressure to collect revenues in Calvert — and probably other small towns in Texas — is excessive," he said. "And what happens is, you got judges like me who say they've got better things to do with my time. 'Thank you very much, and God bless you, I'll move on.'"

In Franklin, population 1,618, they take in a half-million dollars in municipal court fees every year, budget figures show. That's mostly traffic tickets. The police department is funded by municipal court fees, a city official told News 8.

Hearne officials would not tell us how much their town collects in municipal court fees, or how big its budget is. But state records show it ranks 43rd in Texas for pending cases in municipal court per capita, which is a measure of how many traffic tickets it gives relative to its population.

Hearne has just 4,400 people, but it has more than 12,000 municipal court cases pending, records show.

Lott is one of the top 20 in the state for pending municipal court cases, records show. The town's mayor, Anita Tindle, would not provide budget numbers. But state records show Lott has more than 3,400 municipal court cases pending. That's nearly five cases for each of its 743 residents.

Calvert, also in the top 20 for pending cases, also declined to provide financial numbers. But state records show it has 5,159 municipal court cases pending — which is nearly five for each of its approximately 1,100 residents.

Former Judge Viscarde says small towns bank on no one taking their traffic tickets to court and simply mailing in a check. He said Calvert is incapable of trying cases because it has no prosecutor, and doesn't want to pay for one.

"The mindset of most small towns — including Calvert, and I can only speak for Calvert — is, 'After all, we're only Calvert, who's going to know?' The problem is, I knew."

The State of Texas can fine cities that get more than 30 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets. In the past decade, the Comptroller of Public Accounts has collected more than $2 million from a handful of cities for overzealous fines.

But records show that no town in the Texas Triangle has ever been audited.

MORE: From News 8 Investigates


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