Municipal court keeps busy
Judge delivers her annual report
By Scott Bellile
New London-Weyauwega Joint Municipal Court kept busy last year.
Municipal Judge Laurie Shaw gave the New London Finance and Personnel Committee a report on 2017’s court activities last month.
Municipal court sessions are held on the second and fourth Wednesday each month at New London’s city hall. Shaw hears both adult and juvenile cases pertaining to ordinance and traffic violations.
Last year 950 citations were issued, Shaw told the committee on Jan. 3. Of those citations:
• 672 were in New London.
• 278 were in Weyauwega.
• More than half, 499, were traffic incidents.
• 818 were adult citations.
• 132 were juvenile citations.
New London’s court generated a net revenue of $35,585 in 2017 while Weyauwega’s net income was $9,611.
Two traffic citations – failure to wear a seatbelt and no proof of insurance – are the lowest costing forfeitures at $10, yet Shaw said they are tough fines to collect from people. As of early January, Shaw said 46 $10 citations were unpaid.
“One thing that we can do, and we do do it – and people are amazed that we do it – but if you get a ticket for no proof of insurance or failure to wear a seatbelt, you blow off court, you don’t come and you don’t pay it, we can suspend your driver’s license for a year,” Shaw said. “And we will.
“They’re appalled when we do it, but I’m appalled when they don’t come to court.”
As far as paying off citations, Shaw said defendants can pay them the day of court, in 60 days, or on a payment plan.
The municipal court has 50 defendants on payment plans totaling about $36,000. Defendants pay by the month until their debt is paid in full, which is typically a one-year timeline.
June and December were the busiest months for the joint court, with 100 and 103 cases, respectively.
The municipal court held 14 trials between in 2017, Shaw said. The cases were:
• Disorderly conduct (5)
• OWI (4)
• Driving too fast for conditions (1)
• Trespassing (1)
• Property damage in a city park (1)
• Theft (1)
• Possession of marijuana (1)
Shaw said the biggest trial in her term was in 2015 when Canadian National Railway refused to pay citations issued by Weyauwega Police Department. Canadian National’s trains blocked three railroad-street intersections for up to six hours in 2014. Shaw ruled in favor of WPD because the incidents impacted Weyauwega emergency personnel’s response times to calls.
When Wisconsin Central Ltd., a subsidiary of Canadian National, appealed, Waupaca County Judge Vicki Clussman upheld Shaw’s ruling. Wisconsin Central is appealed Clussman’s decision in the Wisconsin Appeals Court District 4 and the parties await a ruling.
“Right now the railroad has 43 outstanding citations, about $31,000 worth of fines out there,” Shaw said. “If that is upheld and the appeal process ever ends, technically that money would go back to municipal court. But I don’t know if there’s ever an end in sight for that one.”
As of early January, Shaw said the municipal court had 96 active WRIT warrants totaling $21,200. These warrants allow police to arrest an adult defendant if found, but only in Waupaca or Outagamie counties.
These limitations are called geo-restrictions, New London Police Chief Jeff Schlueter said. Without geo-restrictions, for example, Schlueter said New London Police Department could spend $400 arresting someone who owes the city of Milwaukee $100.
In the case of New London-Weyauwega Joint Municipal Court, Shaw said that means some citations go unpaid because the person with the WRIT warrant may flee the city. However, she said some police are OK with it if it means that person is no longer in town committing crimes.
When David Morack, finance and personnel committee chairman, asked Shaw if she had any recommendations for ways to change the court, she did not provide any.
“I feel like we’re offering courteous and efficient service to the citizens,” Shaw said. “I am very, very confident that everything is being taken care of. There’s nothing falling through the cracks.”
Earning a $10,000 salary in 2017, the municipal judge serves a four-year term. Shaw was elected in 2014. This spring she is running for re-election unopposed.