Monday, November 29, 2010

Municipal court revenue plummets as Houston police skip morning traffic court sessions

Here's an example how relatively trivial cost cutting at the municipal level can create much greater expenses elsewhere in the system. Click2Houston has a story explaining why "simple traffic court cases are dragging out for years" in Harris County. "'If you have a ticket date reset right now, I think most of the time your reset date is like a year or more out,' explained Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Houston Officer's Union." Further:
Blankinship blames the delays on a new policy that doesn't allow officers to appear in court until 1 p.m., while drivers have to be there at 8 a.m.

"We're here because you asked us to be here," said John Crochet. "We're ready, but you're not."The time change was designed to reduce overtime for Houston police, and overtime is down since the new policy started in August. Granted , three of Taylor Crochet's trials were reset before that time, but officers say we can expect to see many more cases just like his now."But apparently the system is so backlogged it takes forever to get your case to trial," said John Crochet."I don't think the changes have helped anything," said Blankinship. "It's actually caused more problems."
The most unfortunate part of the new policy, beyond its hubris (see prior Grits coverage), is that it's actually costing taxpayers money overall, not saving it:
While the city has saved a quarter-million dollars on officer overtime in just two months, revenue at municipal court is down $2.3 million in August, September and October 2010 compared to the same three months last year.

Officers say it's because so many cases are being reset and unresolved that fines are not being paid.
Via Texas Watchdog, which assisted Click2Houston with its investigation.


rodsmith said...


"After four resets by the judge, Taylor is still waiting for her day in court. Her latest trial date is now scheduled for May 2011, more than two years after she got the ticket.

"This will be the fourth time, and my lawyer told me most likely it will be rescheduled for a fifth time," John Crochet said.

"It's been frustrating," Taylor Crochet said."

Personaly i think it's ILLEGAL and this man and his daughter have major grounds to bring criminal charges agaisnt the judge and anyone else involved in this joke. ONCE i might understand but after that if the state doesn't have brains enough to get the cop there for the LEGAL HEARING that would result in a BENCH WARRANT for anyone else who didn't show on time....CASE IS DEAD! it should have been automatically DISMISSED!

Jim B said...

Classic! Save $1 in payroll but lose (almost) $9 in revenue.

So based on the trend, municipal court revenue will decline by $9.2 million while saving about $1 million in HPD over time. How can this policy possibly make sense to any reasonable person responsible for city finances?

Anonymous said...

Couldn't the driver tickets move to have the case dropped? These are minor violations, and seems a bit silly me that they can set it up like it is a Felony case..

Anonymous said...

City hall has turned the court into a profit center. Ditto the ongoing legal nonsense over the red light cams, for city hall it's all about the dough. When court profit dips city hall wees its knickers.

Anonymous said...

Maybe police officers should be chasing real crooks instead of being the revenue generators for their city.
STOP ticket quotas!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a pissing match between the court generating revenue and the PD trying to whittle down their budget expenditures. Interesting when government attacks itself. Probably be a new category of crime to add to the list. Obstruction of Justice? Sure. And why does a municipal court wield so much power?

Anonymous said...

Since when is a court held hostage by the personnel policies of a law enforcement agency? Seems to me that the court can issue a subpoena for a time and date the court determines to be prudent.

Anonymous said...

The ripple effect of actions that "please the court" is evident here.

Everyone in the justice system is caught up with budget constraints and liability for misconduct......except the judges.

Anonymous said...

Everyone in the justice system is caught up with budget constraints and liability for misconduct......except the judges

This was caused by the mayor's directive that officers not show up to court in the morning, not the judges. That policy is directly responsible for the cops not showing up at trials.


rodsmith said...


"Anonymous said...
Everyone in the justice system is caught up with budget constraints and liability for misconduct......except the judges

This was caused by the mayor's directive that officers not show up to court in the morning, not the judges. That policy is directly responsible for the cops not showing up at trials."

Maybe so. But i'd be willing to bet that if the judges issued bench warrants for the cops not showing when required...and had the state police or rangers drag them into court in handcuffs...the mayor would back off.

Anonymous said...

The city’s municipal court dockets for a trial by jury have always been backlogged ask any attorney that works the city beat and police officers not working overtime probably has had zero effect on the revenue.

This is all so ridiculous that it would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetically sad.

(In a nut shell) in 1995 the city had a tiny office in the basement of the municipal court and a line of three or four people was busy.
The bail bond industry began spending large amounts of money advertising to the public, creating awareness over traffic ticket warrants and changed the way the City of Houston generated income forevermore overnight that same year.

Since then the city has remodeled their dilapidated building several times, changed their parking lot into a state of the art money making machine and their employees all wear nice new uniforms and work multiple stations to service what had become a never ending line of customers with more state of the art help from multiple screens directing traffic like you would see in an airport and service stations that have robotic voices instructing customer to the next available window.

Within the last few years the city has continually changed the way they handle in-jail defendants streamlining it to the extent that they have made it nearly impossible to get someone out of jail before they are taken to court. In doing so they have also sent out the message loud and clear to the streets that going to jail for traffic tickets is a quick in and out process, one day, two days max.

This has created a (who cares) mentality for a huge portion of their clientele who purposely choose not worry about it and in fact choose jail now over paying.

And, they have cut out a huge portion of their revenue for those that get arrested that would like to get out because they can’t get out before they are taken to court in effect creating an expenditure with no return. Surprise, surprise, they are losing millions of dollars quarterly.

The County is losing theirs even faster making the trip in and out of jail much quicker than at the city.

All these changes have occurred in the name of jail overcrowding and none have looked at lowering bail on drug offenses and capping it at $5000.00 which would effectively release the pressure valve at the County jail, secure the court appearances of defendants and allow the city and county to rethink its money losing strategy.

As it stands now the process of arresting someone for a class c misdemeanor in Harris County has become a one way funnel of spending and losing millions with no return and the real joke is that instead of getting out of jail within a few short hours the process now takes between 24 and 48 hours, so much for helping the jail overcrowding issue.

Anonymous said...

Oh and BTW, if they changed the way they handle the capias profine by allowing people to get back into the system they would find a few more millions in change they could pick up and the public would actually love them for it.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps instead of focusing on "Revenues", we should focus on the bottom line.

For example, consider the fully loaded costs involved from possibly too many officers, passing out too many tickets that must be so trivial in nature that the officers don't even show up in court. Add in court costs, lost working time, etc.etc. etc.

What you may find is that by ELIMINATING officers & wasting time on apparently unimportant infractions, that:

1) not much would change on our streets, and

2) the savings in cost would outstrip the revenues "lost".

The net effect of ceasing to focus on inefficient activities could be a net positive, as far as cash goes.

And Cash, not Revenues, is always "King".