By Darrell Todd Maurina
Tuesday’s special traffic enforcement operation at the corner of Prince and Commerce will bring many people into contact with a part of the court system that doesn’t always get much attention — the Clovis Municipal Court, served by Judge Jan Garrett.
While police often write citations in a form that allows recipients to admit guilt by signing the ticket and mailing it in with a predetermined fine, Lt. Ron Hutchinson of the Clovis Police Department said that’s not the procedure they used Tuesday and most if not all of the people cited will be required to see the judge.
Hutchinson said many of the motorists they stopped would have seen the judge anyway.
“It’s not unusual to get some angry people,” Hutchinson said. “I think pretty much everybody wants to take it to the judge.”
Police said they issued 99 citations in about four hours during Tuesday’s special operation, which was aimed primarily at motorists illegally blocking intersections.
Hutchinson said Clovis police alerted Garrett to the operation so her office would be prepared for the extra work, and Garrett said she appreciated the notice.
“They came in and told me they were going to be doing a lot of tickets in this area. I think it’s just to let me know there is going to be an increase in tickets,” Garrett said. “Probably issuing 99 tickets in one place on an afternoon is more than we would usually get.”
Garrett said the procedure for people required to come into her court is much like that used in the higher courts.
“When somebody comes in with a citation they always have the option of having an attorney but most people at the municipal court level just come in by themselves,” Garrett said. “They have the option of pleading not guilty, in which case they would go to trial at a date set about six weeks in the future, or they can plead guilty or no contest right there in which case we will talk about what happened and I’ll accept their plea and we will talk about disposition and sentencing.”
Unlike the magistrate and district courts, municipal court jurisdiction is limited to less serious crimes and therefore has lower penalties.
“Most of the criminal charges that we deal with are punishable by up to 90 days in jail and up to a $500 fine, but driving while intoxicated has higher penalties,” Garrett said. “(For DWI) I can give them up to 90 days in jail and up to a $999 fine for first offense and then there are lots of other things attached to DWI like ignition interlock. It is an expensive proposition and there are lots of things attached that you have to comply with if you ever want to get your license back.”
Most of Tuesday’s citations carry a maximum fine of $56, Garrett said.
Those who want to come in to see Judge Garrett this week won’t be able to do so, however.
“We’re going to be doing a training (this) week,” Garrett said. “We are going to have somebody there (at the municipal court office) to take payments or answer questions.”