Friday, October 27, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Hot-check resolution

Sherwood and the American Civil Liberties Union have reached an agreement on the city’s hot-check court, which handles all hot-check prosecutions for Pulaski County.

The deal requires few if any concessions from Judge Milas “Butch” Hale III, and the ACLU has agreed to drop its federal lawsuit alleging the court improperly treated defendants.

The ACLU claimed in August 2016 the city was profiting from the court’s defendants, mostly poor people, by trapping them in a cycle of court fines and fees.

The ACLU believed, incorrectly, that 12 percent of Sherwood’s operating budget was generated by the hot-check court. Not so.

Mayor Virginia Young explained that the revenue from court fines helps pay for the court staff and nothing more.

The judge said he had nothing to hide and his court was not a pauper’s prison. The ACLU’s lawsuit was dismissed by a federal magistrate, who said the defendants did not have standing to sue a court while their cases were pending in that very court.

The ACLU argued a bad check for $15 could be “leveraged” into thousands in fines and court fees. True, if the defendant repeatedly skips court or does not stick to a payment plan. The cost can be reasonable if one shows up in court and pays what’s owed.

Judge Hale has pledged to improve the way his court handles contempt procedures for people who ignore their court dates. That will help lower fines and reduce arrest warrants.

He has already begun videotaping court hearings so there’s a clear record for defendants and their attorneys to review if needed.

It’s good to see a resolution to this drawn-out case that doesn’t compromise, or throw into question, the integrity of the court.