Trial Court Coordination Councils
King County TCCC sponsors panel discussion focusing on a regional approach to re-licensing
In June 2003, Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) and King County District Court (KCDC) in partnership with the Trial Court Coordination Council, sponsored a program entitled: “How to Improve Your Revenue Stream: Building a Multi-jurisdictional Approach to Re-Licensing.”
Held in the municipal court’s new jury assembly room, the agenda featured SMC Judge Jean Rietschel; KCDC Presiding Judge Wesley Saint Clair; King County Prosecuting Attorney Margaret Nave; City of Seattle Attorney Robert Hood; as well as the dedicated re-licensing program facilitators Cynthia Ford (SMC) and Tracey Smith (KCDC).
The panel discussed “driving while license suspended” or DWLS 3 – license suspension for non-payment of traffic infractions – as an access to justice issue. The working poor, the unemployed, and indigent populations are disproportionately affected.
Speakers highlighted the benefits of re-licensing programs, which include:
The discussion highlighted the collaboration between KCDC and SMC resulting in the successful coordination of their re-licensing programs. The programs, while achieving similar results, take a slightly differing approach.
The SMC program has several components:
Costs and return of SMC approach
The SMC Re-licensing Program costs approximately $170,000 per year. This includes the salary and benefits of the ombudsman and contracts with community based organizations. SMC has been able to identify at least $254,948 paid through re-licensing related time-payments.
63% of the program’s clients are successfully re-licensed. 83% of SMC’s clients are compliant with requirements to resolve outstanding infractions with SMC.
Results from the first program evaluation in 2001 show that offenders who participate in re-licensing are 38% more likely to obtain a valid driver’s license.
However, clients have an increasing number of infractions in other jurisdictions keeping their licenses suspended. Offenders’ inability to work with infractions in all jurisdictions hurts their ability to be re-licensed through the SMC program.
The KCDC Approach
KCDC initiated a DWLS Court to reduce jail cost/jail days; to reduce prosecutorial, public defender, and clerical impact; and to reduce new occurrences of DWLS. The DWLS Court expedites the processing of DWLS cases and promotes efficiency in handling difficult cases.
The KCDC program offers many of the community-based alternatives offered by SMC. However, the KCDC program starts with the prosecutor inviting participation rather than filing formal charges. The offender meets with a judge for mitigation of fines. Fines are paid through community service or the Community Work Program, and individualized payment plans are created.
Walk-ins are welcome to participate creating a unique situation. Based on word-of-mouth, offenders are coming to the court voluntarily (during specified hours) to ask for assistance in getting re-licensed.
The KCDC program also has a revenue emphasis. Receipting and collection functions are a priority. They have implemented pay by phone and on-line payments. They use a billing service for time-pay accounts, the re-licensing program collects delinquent accounts, and they participate in the AllianceOne PIA collections program.
KCDC’s program has expedited the processing of DWLS 3 cases. It has allowed prosecutors to manage more serious misdemeanant cases, reduced cost to the criminal justice system, and provided the ability to reduce recidivism.
Coordination is key
Multi-jurisdictional coordination is an essential component of successful re-licensing programs. KCDC and SMC exchange representatives to assist in weekly re-licensing orientations held by each court. They meet monthly to exchange information and ideas on how SMC and KCDC can better collaborate. Best practices and program updates are reported to the Trial Court Coordination Council.
Congratulations to Seattle Municipal Court and King County District Court for initiating creative solutions and providing viable and successful alternatives for solving the re-licensing dilemma facing courts across Washington State.
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