Luther- Almost every defendant who appeared for Luther Municipal Court on Wednesday asked for “time pay” from the judge to take care of the fines from the tickets they had received over the last several months.
It was the first court day in Luther since the coronavirus closed Oklahoma courts several weeks ago. The court proceeding was held in two sessions to allow for social distancing, and everyone in the courtroom was offered gloves and a mask. Earlier this year, the court moved from a small room at the old Town Hall to a more spacious room in the former Luther Police Department on Main Street. The new facility allowed for social distancing and a proceeding that included no more than 15 persons at a time.
“Concentrate on keeping this in your budget,” Judge Haynes told a defendant who had just returned to work after being laid off. “We are living in a disaster and times are hard. Make your best effort to get this moved along.”
That particular defendant owes $1364. Others owe as much as $2,000.
Most of the defendants had speeding tickets to pay for a fine of $260. Most of those tickets are written for speeding on Highway 66 east of town where the speed limit drops from 55 mph to 45 mph, or on Luther Road, south of town. Others had extra citations as well that ranged from possessing controlled dangerous substances ($565 fine), open container of alcohol, minor in possession of alcohol, no insurance and suspended licenses. A suspended license racks up an additional $610 fine. Plus court fees. Some of the defendants had spent days in jail to knock off their fine amounts. A day in jail is worth $100 off of a fine, but also accrues about $35 daily in fees. Efforts have been made to reduce jail populations at the Oklahoma County and Lincoln County jails to deter the spread of Covid-19.
Judge Haynes asked if they could make some payment today. Most said they could pay $50 or $100. The balance must be taken care of by June 3, or they must return to court.
One defendant was waiting for a tax return, another one hoped stimulus money would arrive soon. Another was glad to be back to work after two months and will get a paycheck on Friday. Another one told the judge his sister had dropped him off at court, since his license is suspended. Others have fines to pay off in other jurisdictions.
Defendants who come to court can plead guilty, not guilty (triggering a trial in which the Town will have to prove its case), or no contest. Most defendants choose no contest and work out an agreement with the town prosecutor to pay the fines in exchange to protect driving records and insurance rates.
A little more time
The docket today also included about 15 cases of extended time-pay reappearances from prior extensions that the judge granted. To be considered for time-pay, defendants fill out a two-page application that asks for employment and family information and a space to fill in the answer to the question: “In your own words, write what you have done and intend to do to raise funds required to pay the balance of the fines. Include a specific date by which you can have the fines paid in full.”
Only about three of those defendants showed up today and were granted more time. The rest, except one who called saying he was ill, will have a bench warrant issued and their drivers licenses suspended (an additional $610 fine).
Judge Haynes told The Luther Register that the city has guided him to be more “time-pay” friendly with defendants, but in his other courts in other municipalities, he noted, there is a 98% day-of fine payment. In the past in Luther, defendants would be told to “call someone who loves you and cares about you to get this fine paid today.” A mother of a defendant filed a complaint against the judge last fall. Read that story here.
“Slow down. Keep your tag up. And be careful,” Judge Haynes told one defendant today who owed $383 for speeding and an expired license tag.
To another defendant he said he should get credit for appearing in court today during a “confusing period of time,” and wished him good luck as the defendant went to the window to pay on his $863 fine.