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The Corrupt Local Court System

Updated on April 21, 2018
jackclee lm profile image

Jack is currently a volunteer at the Westchester County Archives. Before retiring, he worked at IBM for over 28 years.

Introduction

A recent experience at a municipal court in the NJ area exposed to me a corruption that has gone off the rail. There are several components in play. I will outline each and let the reader judge the truthfulness of my observations. I will not identify the specific court but I truly believe it is pervasive among many local court system.

- Apr. 2018

Background

What is the purpose of a local municipal court? The majority of the cases are traffic related with a few domestic violence and assaults mixed in. The court exist to punish the violators mostly with fines. It is also a way to promote public safety. These are all good things to maintain a responsible public that respects local ordinances.

In many cases, they have been perverted to become a money raising machine for the benefit of the local police and courts and the State.

The alleged crime almost take a back seat to the whole process. In most cases, the violation charges especially traffic related are pleaded down to a non-point violation with a huge fine, a standard court fee plus a huge State surcharge.

The idea of equal justice under the law does not seem to apply here. I will highlight some of my observations.

Some Detailed Observations...

The “system” is the problem and here are just a few random observations.

The meeting place is at a local court house. People responding to a summons were told to report there at 4pm. A sign up list is on the table. No instructions as to what to do or expect. A list of pending cases are posted on a wall.

Beside average defendents, there are a slew of lawyers dressed in suits. A police officer is present and ordered people around. His harsh tone demonstrate he means business and no disrespect will be tolerated. I did not see him smile the whole time.

“No cell phone use allowed in the building” he announced.

There were about 100 people in the building. After signing in, we were told to go and sit in the court room. After about one and a half hour, the judge came in. He announced they had a computer failure and contributed to the delay. He apologized and begin hearing the cases.

It appears there is no first come first serve here. The cases with attorney representing the defendants were heard first. Apparently, many of them are regular friends of the court. They already made some agreements with the prosecutor ahead of time and it is just a formality to appear in front of the judge and settle the case.

Next, the prosecutor came in and announced the names of people he want to see next. They will be spoken to one on one outside the court room.

Some cases were dismissed while others are pleaded down. In any case, they are sent back into the court room and await to be called.

A pattern developed as I was listening to the vsrious cases before me.

The judge will identify the individual and the attorney if one was present. He repeat the charge and discussed the prosecutors offer to plea down and ask for a plea. If defendant agree, he doled out the fine and court fee and surcharges. Next case...

Since this was a mostly ethnic community, a translator is on hand to help the proceedings. I believe he is a paid employee of the court.

Another common feature is many were charged with multiple summons. It seems the practice is to give out two summons, have it bargained down to one guilty and one dismissed and pay a larger fine.

It is very efficient and almost like an assembly line. You can almost hear the cash register ringing...

Rough Estimates

By my rough calculation, there were about 100 cases in total.

Averge fine was $165 plus a court fee of $35 and many with addition State surcharge of $250.

That is $45K raised for one evening of 3.5 hours. 4-7:30 pm.

Beside the judge, there were 2 assistants, 3 police officers, 1 translator, 1 prosecutor and 2 clerks processing the fines. Only personal checks, money order or cash are allowed. No credit cards accepted.

In addition, approximately one third of the people had retained their own private lawyers. They must have paid a handsome fee for the priviledge of getting their cases heard first. Time is money you know.

No wonder after I received my summons, I received at least 7 solicitations from local attorneys mailed to my address. Somehow, it was public record that I received a citation and my name and address was added to their list.

The Law Doesn't Seem to Matter...

My experience as a whole is that the law seems secondary to the “process.” At the end of the day, what was recorded is not a reflection of the true nature of the alleged crimeS. Next time you see a police statistic about crime in your area, just be adviced, they are most likely pleaded down. A moving violation becomes an unsafe operation of vehicle with no points... You get the idea.

I understand the need for plea bargains. The courts are inundated with cases and does not have the resources to take every case to trial. However, there needs to be a balance and some common sense applied here.

The other guiding principles should be “the punishment fit the crime.“ That is not what I witnessed. It seems the penalty doled out by the judge have little to do with the actual crime or offense. Some have a heavy fine while others a lighter fine for a more serious offense. The one pattern that I did notice is that repeat offenders are charged with a much higher fine by law. A second offense of the same infraction will lead to a double or triple of the amount.

Final Observation

The attitude of the court officers is one of entitlement. They wield their power by ordering the little people around. No cell phone...no stretching in court room, hands out of your pockets... They treat the citizens like animals to be ordered about, instead of with respect and be the public servant they are hired to be. I witnessed this abuse on several occasions. In one instance, he confiscated the cell phone from one person waiting in the court room after a long delay caused by a computer failure. I was mostly offended by the lack of respect for the people there. Many are immigrants with poor knowledge of the English language.

Summary

The moral of the story, don’t break any traffic laws in local municipalities. You will be treated badly while coerced into paying a huge fine and wasting 3 hours of your life.

© 2018 Jack Lee

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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      16 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Ca. & Az had such bad and corrupt municipal court administrations they canned them and put the courts all in Superior courts with county divisions but State Supreme court controlled

    • tsadjatko profile image

      16 months ago from now on

      Jack you are so right but this is nothing new. In 1984, in upstate NY I got a speeding ticket for 6 miles over the limit when I was passing a car on a road in a valley where the passing lane was ending coming around a curve in the road and I had no choice but to speed up to finish the pass and get back in the right lane.

      This is where the state cops chose to set up a trap and I'm sure it worked for them because the road probably shouldn't have been marked with a broken passing yellow line going into a curve. It was a small town and I went to the hearing at 6:PM to plead not guilty and explain the circumstances to the judge.

      My case was called in a half hour but the trooper was not present. The Judge asked another trooper where he was and that trooper said he was on duty and out on the road. The Judge instructed him to call the trooper and tell him to come in and told me to sit down. This was not proper procedure, my case was called it should have been dismissed for the trooper not showing.

      For the next two hours the Judge saw everyone else pausing to cajole the trooper there to get his colleague in there. Finally when there was no one left the trooper told the judge for like the third time my trooper was refusing to come in.

      So the Judge called me up and asked me why I wanted to contest the ticket and I explained to him the circumstances and how I pleaded with the trooper that it wasn't fair, I was passing and there was no one on the highway except the car I was passing who was going well below the speed limit. The judge then said well he's not showing up so you can go. I really felt like giving him my piece of mind for forcing me to stay when the cop had refused several times to come in and he knew it but I figured I beat this, why risk contempt or some other charge. It was obvious this Judge was just pissed that he wasn't getting a cent from me for the town.

      After this I researched the system a little and discovered that you can wait til your hearing date and postpone your hearing at least twice which usually puts your hearing months down the road and out of the mind of the cop who gave you the ticket who will not show up because everybody does this and the cops wind up having too many court dates to attend, So what happens is the cop never shows and the signal that he isn't showing is that the assistant DA will call you in a backroom right before your case is called and offer to settle it for a violation with no points and a small fine. I did this twice more in coming years for speeding tickets and once took the deal and the other time said no and got dismissed cause the cop wasn't there. Both times the court was packed to overflow with people waiting to see the judge - obviously for New Yorkers there is always a way to game the system to survive NY's corrupt courtrooml policies and speeders know it.

    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      16 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Eric, thanks for that info. I do visit Orange country a few times a year to see my daughter. I do believe in the broken window theory of government. We need to fix the small stuff in order to have an effect in the big cases. We can start by revamping our local court system. What is going on in the FBI and our DOJ, is indicative of the corrupt system all the way to the top...

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      16 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Jack you should try living in California. 250$ is chump change and it is immediately turned over to nasty debt collectors who can screw with your credit if you miss an arranged payment. It does not matter if you are deployed or in the hospital.

      90% of the time those lawyers are for the very rich and folks like cab and truck drivers who get nailed hard for points, maybe even lose their job. The court knows this and holds them up for up to 1,000 on a twelve mile an hour over the speed limit deal.

      But I like to think the players are corrupt and not the intended system and laws.

    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      16 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Eric, thanks for checking in. I write them as I see it. The $250 surcharge seems like a clear abuse by a State that is going broke. A surcharge is typically 10/20 dollars on a $100 item...a $250 surcharge is theft of the highest order. How did the legislators get away with passing this law? Where are the sane people? This is what the Mafia does to extort money...

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      16 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Interesting take on the matter. It seems you are right on the mark for a person not let into the inner circle of how and why things are as they are. Normally these courts do look like a k-mart assembly line. We call it revenue enhancement.

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