DALLAS (CN) – In a scathing assessment of the city’s municipal court system, Dallas city managers accused municipal judges of being too soft on defendants and making it too easy for defendants to ignore citations, resulting in millions of dollars in lost revenue.
On Wednesday, city managers briefed the Dallas City Council on the results of a two-year study of the municipal court system. The study concluded that there were a high percentage of dismissals by municipal judges and that 36 percent of notices were ignored by defendants. It also found that non-financial penalties such as time served and community service were relied on too heavily by judges in disposing of cases and that only 25 percent of the face value of fines are ever collected.
“Time served is used in a significant percentage of violations to dispose of cases [.It] raises questions as to the value of the Warrant Round Up effort, or any effort by police, to arrest those ignoring city notices,” the briefing states. “There is no agreement as to how state law should be applied [and] fines rarely reflect cost of trial.”
In terms of judge ordered deferred disposition fees, the study said the city only collected 37 percent of eligible court costs while state courts collected 100 percent.
The study also found that Dallas only collects $41.49 in revenue per case on average, compared with $104.34 in Irving, $98.90 in Arlington and $53.93 in Fort Worth.
The study recommended that the city council provide “guiding principles” by which the court should operate, that a mission statement be created and that the council determine if “defendants be given more favorable options for resolving their citations before opting for a trial.”
It recommended that judges establish a tiered fine structure that gives defendants incentive to respond to citations within 21 days. The study also recommended several changes to municipal court rules that forbid defendants from getting a reset at trial to hire an attorney and off docket motions for trial settings on delinquent cases.