Innovation at municipal court
Shaw alleviates case backlog, increases collections
By John Faucher
Municipal Judge Laurie Shaw provided the city of New London Finance and Personnel Committee with a status report on the Joint Municipal Court, at its August meeting.
Shaw began serving as judge for the New London-Weyauwega Joint Municipal Court on May 1, 2014.
“In the 15 months since elected, we’ve made a lot of changes to the court and I am excited to share the results with you,” said Shaw.
She said that despite some initial challenges in learning a new system, court staff was able to trim expenses by over $10,000 in 2014. Increased efficiencies and office re-organization helped staff. They also implemented new technologies to assist with follow-up reminders and tracking.
Shaw thanked the committee and city staff who helped make the court’s 2014 office move to the front of city hall possible. She said it has been a positive move for both court clients and staff.
The court utilized additional methods in collecting past due fines and alleviated some case backlog in 2014.
The increased collections resulted in year-end revenues of $89,353 for 2014. The initial goal was set at $76,000.
As of June 30, the court had already collected $75,028 this year.
“We actively pursue fine collections through warrants, driver’s license suspensions and tax intercept,” said Shaw.
A warrant sweep in February resulted in over $30,000 in fines collected for the month.
“We will be doing more sweeps as time permits,” said Shaw.
“We send letters to people when we issue a warrant to notify them they have one, and instruct them on payment methods. We also list warrants in the local paper and on Facebook,” said Shaw.
“If you want to get people’s attention to make good on their debt, a warrant is very effective,” said Shaw.
“We respect court clients and try to work with them where we can, however, we also follow through and expect them to make good on their obligations.”
Alderman John Romberg asked about bad check writing cases in the city.
“When the municipal court initially started, in my opinion the majority of cases seemed to be bad check writing,” said Romberg. “How does that stand today?”
“We’re seeing less worthless checks, but we do still see them,” said Shaw.
She said they are seeing more citations for driving without a license and vehicle registrations, but an even greater challenge is the 15 to 25 juvenile cases the court sees in a month.
“A majority of our cases are juvenile. That’s the kicker,” said Shaw. “I want to fix it. I want to help them.”
She said there could be additional challenges with juvenile cases because of limited options and or parental involvement.
The court has adjusted times to accommodate parents work schedules. Monthly court sessions are held in both the mornings, and outside of the regular workday in late afternoon or evening.
Initial appearances are held on the second Wednesday starting at 3:30 p.m. and end around 6:30 p.m. Good cause hearings are held on the fourth Wednesday of the month starting at 8:30 a.m. Trials are held the fourth Wednesday of the month, following good cause hearings.
Mayor Gary Henke asked Shaw if there were any other challenges.
Shaw said that they were working with city attorneys from New London and Weyauwega in scheduling trail dates.
“We would like them to issue subpoenas earlier,” said Shaw. “People’s work schedules and police officer’s schedules require more notice than a few days.”
She also said the court was in the process of finding another quality part time employee to fill an opening for the administrative assistant position.
“We’re currently hiring for this position and once trained, I would expect them to work 11 to 18 hours a week,” said Shaw.
The assistant position pays $10 per hour.
She also requested the committee increase the pay rate for the Clerk of Courts. Currently the clerk is paid $14.69 per hour. Shaw is requesting $17.69 an hour to bring the pay more in line with other communities, and fairly compensate the clerk for her training and experience.
Currently, the clerk position works an average of 15 to 25 hours per week.
“The raise would be based better on her abilities,” said Shaw.
As of June 30, salary expenditures were significantly under budget for the year at $8,852.
Shaw said with the raise, she estimated the year-end expenditure to remain under $15,000. This amount is still within the $33,000 budgeted.
Finance Director Judy Radke said that the Finance and Personnel Committee would have to approve the raise and place it on its September agenda for further discussion.