Efficiency behind proposed ordinance

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 3, 2004

Citizen convenience and court efficiency is the aim of a city ordinance that council members are expected to take action on in their next regular meeting April 13.

The ordinance, which would allow people ticketed for not having liability insurance to pay fines without going to court, is the brainchild of Municipal Court Judge Nick Cervera.

"The type of offense it is requires the offender to make a court appearance before a judge and enter plea," Cervera said. "When you have a new law like this, there is a multitude of defendants until they understand that the law is out there."

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Alabama now requires each motor vehicle owner to be covered by liability insurance. The law also requires proof of insurance be carried in the vehicle at all times.

Under the current procedures, Cervera said one plea date is set each month, requiring offenders to come to court even if they do not want to contest the charge.

"It's an inconvenience to the violator and to the court, too," he said. "… if we could work something out where the offender wants to plead guilty, then all they have to do is pay the fines."

Cervera asked the council to allow the court magistrates to accept payment for the no insurance violations and to set a fee schedule to apply.

Under the proposed ordinance, a three-tiered penalty structure is utilized.

If a violator had insurance in force at the time of a citation but had no proof of insurance, then the case would be dismissed upon payment of traffic court costs, currently $104.

If a violator obtains insurance after a citation, the fine levied is $100, plus court costs.

If a violator does not have liability insurance at all, the fine is $200, plus court costs.

"Everyone has the proagitive to plea not guilty and if they enter a plea of not guilty they can do so before the magistrate, then the case would be set on the trial docket," Cervera said.

It's that court docket, Cervera wants to streamline. He said a normal docket is more than 300 cases per month. In the month of April, there are 100 no-insurance cases on the docket.

"The efficiency was the purpose and the convenience of it all, but there is going to be a significant savings," he said.

That savings comes from the reduction in overtime expenses for the court's three salaried workers.

"By passage of the ordinance, some of the overtime pay will be eliminated," he said.