CORINTH — City leaders are poised to make Corinth Municipal Court a court of record, in response to a tenfold increase in appeals over the past two years.
City Manager Jim Berzina told the council during a workshop last week that, while the city loses revenue when people appeal code enforcement and traffic tickets to the county courts, the city is more concerned about effective enforcement of its ordinances.
A clever property owner, for example, can already get extensions during the summer growing season, enough to only have to mow a few times.
“If it goes to the county, it starts everything over from scratch,” Berzina said. “It’s an opportunity to escape justice. It’s the message we’re sending.”
In 2008-09, people appealed 46 tickets to the county. The following year, that jumped to 89 tickets, and in 2010-11, 356 tickets were appealed. This year, so far, 136 tickets written by Corinth officers have been appealed to county courts.
Both Police Chief Debra Walthall and Planning Director Fred Gibbs, who oversees code enforcement, endorsed the move.
Gibbs said the city is already losing out when crews mow the noncompliant properties. Having tickets appealed to the county courts compounds the situation when the city cannot collect.
Walthall said the move would help save the police department from the expense of sending officers to county courts when the cases come up.
Lee Ann Bunselmeyer, the city’s finance director, briefed the City Council during a workshop session last week, saying that the only increase in cost would be the hiring of a new judge at about $20,000 per year. Texas law requires the judge in a court of record be a licensed attorney.
Currently, the city pays Angie Warner $10,000 per year to serve as a municipal judge. While Warner is a judge for several area cities, she is not a licensed attorney. She told the council that the vast majority of municipal courts are not courts of record — in other words, no transcript of the proceedings is available.
Without a transcript, either prepared by a court reporter at the time of the proceedings or from a recording of the proceedings, any appeal must begin as a brand new trial, according to state law.
Because Corinth already has a recording system for its public meetings, the city would not have to invest in anything else in order to record its municipal court proceedings. If a defendant wants to appeal to the county courts, they will have to pay the cost of preparing the transcript, Bunselmeyer said.
Many major Texas cities have converted their municipal courts to a court of record in order to address the problems that Corinth is experiencing.
The municipal court in Mesquite became a court of record Jan. 1, and they have had no appeals on the record since then, according to Lisa Stout, who manages court collections for Mesquite. The year before, Mesquite saw 2,597 tickets appealed.
“We are seeing what we anticipated,” Stout said.
The council is expected to deliberate on the matter during its first regular meeting in July. The conversion could happen as soon as Oct. 1.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .