Nothing Changes at Municipal Courts Without Approval from the Ticketmasters

Categories: Schutze

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The secret story behind the story of the Dallas municipal judge fracas is that judges in the city courts don't run their own courts anyway. Ticket lawyers do.

I have been talking about this to lawyers familiar with the municipal courts -- lawyers who work there sometimes, not all the time. They know these courts, but they don't depend on them for a living. They won't be quoted, however, because then they'd never win another case in municipal court ever. They tell me that half a dozen traffic lawyers have the ability to shut down the entire court system at any given time. Everybody knows that. So those lawyers run the show.

See also:
- City Council's Municipal Court "Reform" Smells a Lot Like Bad Patronage

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On the surface, the visible fight tomorrow on the City Council will be over the strange obsession of former Municipal Judge Vonciel Hill, now a council member, who is determined by any means possible to get three judges back on the bench after they were bounced by a yearlong court reform review committee did its work.

Two of those judges, Timoteo Gonzalez and Cheryl D. Williams, are suing the city for their jobs. They are represented in that suit by lawyer Randall Scott, who happens also to be one of the biggest ticket lawyer kings.

In spite of the judges being bounced and in spite of their suit against the city, Hill, backed by Mayor Mike Rawlings, wants the council to OK a special appropriations act tomorrow authorizing expenditures to cover their six-figure salaries and naming them in the act as specific individuals who must be hired back and must be paid the money.

Council member Angela Hunt, who was a co-chair of the reform committee, has written to the city attorney asking what the deal's going to be if Williams and Gonzalez do get their benches back.

"If the City Council votes to approve the budget with this amendment next week," Hunt asks in her letter, "will the three reinstated judges be required to recuse themselves from cases in which their attorney, Randall Scott, is representing defendants in their courtroom?"

The Dallas Morning News has been treating this as a simple conflict of interest question, which, on the surface, it is.

The argument may have a certain half-life. Scott's a lawyer. He has a right to represent people. It's a little hard to see how he's anything naughty here.

But forget Scott. Think about the larger political and public policy picture. Let me ask you a question. Why are the city courts so stubbornly screwed up? It's been the Street of Broken Dreams down there forever.

City Council member Dwaine Caraway says in today's News story that it's all about needing better computers and getting the cops to show up for their cases. Oh, bullshit.

The courts have been screwed up through X-many regimes and X-many efforts to straighten them out, because it serves the purposes of certain people for the courts to be screwed up. The ticket kings, in particular, have a permanent running deal with the judges. And maybe with the cops. Who knows?

Let's go back to the idea that the ticket kings run the courts. How? My lawyer sources tell me that the kings have it in their power to shut the courts down at any given moment simply by setting every case they have for trial.

The ratio of cases to courts would be overwhelming -- like trying to feed a dump truck full of rocks through a kitchen blender. The whole thing would melt. And everybody knows it.

On a day-to-day basis, nobody deals in that kind of ultimatum. These are all lawyers who pass each other every day in the corridor and have a certain amount of familiarity and respect for each other, so things are handled in a more businesslike genial fashion. Everybody knows that everybody needs to be reasonable.

Long before anybody goes to court, the ticketmasters wind up with a certain ratio of dismissals, one way or the other. Who knows how? I don't know how. And if a case does go to court, things get even more strange.

Years ago I was in Vonciel Hill's court one day -- it was jammed wall-to-wall with defendants -- and after everybody sat there for an hour or so a clerk walked to the front of the room and announced that every single case in the courtroom was to be dismissed because not a single cop in a single case was going to show up.

What the hell? How does that happen? A couple hundred cases, and by coincidence not a single cop on any one of them shows up? Wow. How lucky was that for the defendants whose lawyers knew to schedule their cases for that day? It was like a magic show!

If you're an outsider sitting there -- a regular citizen -- the courts seem to work by a strange invisible logic. But here's the key: If you hire the right lawyer, that strange invisible logic can work for you. If not, maybe not.

Look. There is a conclusion I find inescapable, as I watch Hill and the mayor go through these otherwise incomprehensible contortions to preserve the jobs of two full-time judges and a part-timer. It's not about those judges, entirely. It's about the system.

The inner system. The secret system. The one you and I aren't supposed to see. Built of a commerce between the ticketmasters and the judges, it's an informal but all-powerful mechanism that decides who rules and who's a fool. It can work for us, if we pay, or against us, if we do not.

You should take a gander, if you have time, at Hunt's web page explaining the review and reform process. It clearly was an effort to sweep some of the dirt off the floor of the court system. If you look at how they did it, it's obvious the committee was trying to infuse some kind of logic and simple rule of law back into this Dickensian Old Bailey rat's nest of a system.

The mayor told me yesterday that he views his support of Hill on this as a simple and reasonable attempt to effect a compromise between warring elements of the council -- elements that happen to be divided by race and ethnicity. I am sure that he is sincere in that idea. Trying to preserve racial peace is no trivial goal.

But I don't believe for a minute that Hill is sincere in construing this as some kind of civil rights issue. This is all about the down and dirty -- about the way those courts really operate, not the way the citizens think they're supposed to run.

Hill knows. She's from the inside. For her, this is no compromise. I admit I don't know exactly how this particular wrinkle works, but my sniffer tells me it's about preserving the game -- the smart insider game.

She wants the council to OK a special appropriations act creating two new permanent judgeships and naming the individuals who have to be given those judgeships. It has a whiff of something, does it not, and, gosh, might we even recognize that fragrance? Oh, yes. It's that old standby, Eau de Municipal Courts.



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25 comments
WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

Dam it Schutze you are a tease.  People need to know who is the best ticket master to get the fix in.  If you can not say directly at least give us some hints or make a reference to an Ad.  Why is it not part of the Observer Best of Series?  Best ticket fixer

k_i_r_yo
k_i_r_yo

I aint pd a ticket in over 10 yurs despite gettin' ova 15.  It who you know when you know you know?  Dont ack like it ain't done all time on other side of the Triniitty eitha.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

It would seem the FBI will have decades of work ahead.

DowntownResident
DowntownResident

Wow. At least JWP tries to be a little less transparent about his corruption.

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

The city has a simple reason to not have cops show up, most people don't fight the ticket. So, the city can either have the cop out writing tickets (and generating revenue), or they can have them drawing pay and generating a lot less revenue by trying to collect one 1 or 2 tickets.

Then, you throw in the fact that the cops will also not be out there to answer 911 calls. and it is easy to see why cops showing up for traffic court is a low priority.

There is a reason that cities, counties, and states love traffic cameras that automatically generate tickets. It is a revenue stream that does not require they tie people up in court.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

At the end of the day, none of it matters.

 

The vast, vast majority of the tickets should never have been written in the first place.  The city and the state work hard to set artificially low speed limits so they can pay a cop to NOT patrol your neighborhood, but instead sit on the side of the highway to write tickets that don't make anyone safer.  Maybe they will also get a chance to write a ticket for tax evasion (since "registration" is just a tax scheme) or for not paying your tithe to the auto repair industry (with the inspection schemes that have very little to do with auto safety and all about churning cars for "environmental" reasons.)

 

If they are lucky, they'll also catch someone who can't afford to buy insurance for their car, and steal it (I mean, impound it until the person who couldn't afford insurance in the first place resigns themselves to the fact that it would cost more to get their car out than it is worth.)   

 

They'll also use it as an excuse to conduct unconstitutional searches of people's cars, using sham K-9 alerts if the person is actually aware of their rights and tells them no, and then hope that they can find a harmless amount of weed in the ashtray.  If not, there's always the chance of throwing down some extra they stole from someone earlier in the day.

 

The system is corrupt because the entire premise is corrupt.  That the courts that these corrupt cases end up in are shams is because the entire process starts as a sham.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Well, these judges would actually have to, you know, WORK if we allowed the system to run as intended.

 

Can't have that, now, can we?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @Tim.Covington Not sure I get what you're saying. The problem of no-show cops doesn't seem to have anything to do with people who settle their tickets out of court. In those cases, there is nothing to show up for. The no-show issue involves only matters where there is an appearance.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

 @Tim.Covington what happens if you dont pay a red light ticket?  Serious question.  id like to know

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 @everlastingphelps I think that the worst, most pernicious aspect of this system, though, is its overwhelming mindlessness. Each individual actor just trying to stay busy and get ahead.

 

Think of the run of the mill prosecuting attorney. At the end of the day, all that is expected of him/her is that there are convictions stacking up. This is the metric we as a society use to judge the success or failure of this individual. That being the case, the goal then is not justice, but the number of people that they can deliver to the penal/parole system.

 

This dynamic is present all up and down the hierarchy of government. Stay busy for the sake of staying busy. Justify your existence. Spend all of your budget so that you can justify an annual increase.

 

Our priorities are all out of whack. In our current system, success and excess are rewarded rather than jurisprudence and thrift.

 

American exceptionalism run amok. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @everlastingphelps OMG! Phelps! We agree! I'm part of the 47 percent of Americans who believe we deserve immediate psychological services if we agree with Phelps! But, by Jove, I think you've got it.  This was another peel of the onion I just didn't want to go in one blog item. In fact the courts and the cops all know that the vast majority of the tickets and the vast majority of the cases brought before them are the bullshit detritus of a society that has tried to criminalize everything from blowing your nose to blowing your ... well, you know what I mean. They know better than anybody that the vast majority of that crap has to be kicked because it's stupid. The problem is that the situation leaves them in the driver's seat as to what gets kicked.  They wind up with a discretionary power that's tantamount to authoritarianism. And they got a system for it.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Oh, and the darker your skin is, the more likely they are to demand that search and bring out the K9.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 @everlastingphelps The other aspect of this system that throws things out of whack are the myriad opportunities for corruption.

 

Or, rather I should say that this system, that rewards all of the wrong things, actively encourages an entrenchment mentality that breeds corruption.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk Right.  It is turning Robert Peel's principles on their head.  "The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it."  If we were really worried about SAFETY, we would be measuring things by the lack of accidents and a DROP in tickets written, not by how often we can churn cases.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @JimSX The goal of authoritarianism isn't to criminalize it's enemies.  It's to criminalize everyone, and then prosecute the ones that you decide are your enemies at any particular time.

 

It's how the Stazi did it.  Make everyone a criminal, and just decide when you are going to come down on them for it.  I fear that we are already there.  Seeing a filmmaker being dragged out of his house at midnight by men literally in brown shirts with his face covered to be questioned about "parole violations" that are not crimes themselves (with no one wanting to talk about his real "crime" being embarrassing the state) hasn't helped my outlook.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @everlastingphelps I disagree with Romney on the food thing. I think it's way more than 47 percent of Americans who want food. I think it's everybody who doesn't live in Hollywood. 

ronnievanzandt77
ronnievanzandt77

@everlastingphelps @JimSX Man, I agree. The bit about the parole violations is scary as hell. I feel like that line in Easyrider, "This used to be one hell of a good country." Or maybe it's always been this way.

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