King County to add prosecutor in traffic court to boost ticket revenueJanuary 5, 2011 @ 6:16 am (Updated: 1:30 pm - 3/28/11 )
We've all heard or maybe even tried a little of fast-talking or double speak to get out of a ticket, but the free ride is about to end in King County. A little court room tap dancing is now going to be met with prosecutor.
Presiding King County District Court Judge Barbara Linde says that the county will dedicate a full-time prosecutor to defending traffic tickets, and that person will likely be in traffic court by the end of the month.
The prosecutor will defend tickets written by the State Patrol on all state highways and freeways in King County and municipal tickets in unincorporated parts of the County. So if you contest your ticket, you won't only have to argue against the officers or troopers written statement, you will likely face a prosecutor representing the cop's interests as well.
Right now, judges only have that written statement. There is no one arguing for the state. Judge Linde told me it really puts judges in an awkward position.
The cities of Redmond and Bellevue have been doing this for a while, but now there will be prosecutors defending tickets in the other 10 cities that contract with King County.
But does it make sense to dedicate a prosecutor to traffic court at a time when budgets are so tight major crimes prosecutors are being let go?
Snohomish County faced that dilemma a few years ago. It was tired of people skating on their tickets. It knew it was losing a lot of money. So it put a fresh law school grad in traffic court on a part-time basis and, "It was so successful that after a couple of years the county council said 'We want you to have one person full-time doing that,'" said Snohomish County chief criminal deputy prosecutor Joan Cavagnaro.
Snohomish County hasn't looked back. Its ticket revenue is up because dismissals are down.
Cavagnaro admits she wasn't onboard right away. She had trouble justifying a prosecutor spot for traffic court in a time when Snohomish County has had to cut 15 percent of its prosecutor's office budget. But once she saw the results, Cavagnaro told me she changed her mind. "If the system is working correctly and the tickets hold up in court, well there's some revenue. That's where our budget dollars come from so that we can prosecute the murders, the rapes and the robberies."
But again, that's the dilemma, dedicating a prosecutor to the little stuff to help fund the big stuff. It's what's kept Pierce County from doing it. Prosecutor Mark Lindquist told me he doesn't have the people to pull this off, but it's something he's looked at almost every year for the last two or three years. He's not sold on the tradeoff, but he told me he's watching other counties who are doing this. He expects to bring it up with the Pierce County Council again this year.
Kitsap County just started putting a prosecutor in traffic court this week, and it's already seeing less dismissals and more open checkbooks.
So if you get popped for speeding or a cell phone ticket, you might want to check with your county before you choose to contest it. You could be biting off a little more than you can chew.
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