NORTH SMITHFIELD – The town's new municipal court has been up and running since September and, so far, it's doing everything town officials had hoped it would, including reaping new revenue and accelerating the legal process for disposition of violations.
In a second quarterly report released this week by court administrator and police Capt. Thomas R. Lafleur, more than $17,000 in revenue was generated by the court, with a net revenue amount for the town standing at nearly $10,000.
“The municipal court is providing another revenue stream to the town and the number of cases that are being processed increases each month," noted Town Administrator Paulette D. Hamilton. "The court also provides residents with a local venue for their appearances and enables the town to enforce ordinances in a more timely fashion.”
During the second quarter time period, the court clerk’s office processed 209 police-issued summonses; one summons relating to a town traffic ordinance; and two building ordinance violations. Also during the quarter, 126 fines were paid either by the pay-by-mail process or as a result of municipal court adjudication, according to Lafleur.
Of the total $17,468 collected in court revenue, $6,251 was sent to the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal (RITT) representing RITT assessments, and $1,316 was sent to the RITT representing the state collection fee.
The net revenue to the town was $9,900, Lafleur said.
The court, presided over by Judge Aram P. Jarret Jr., began hearing its first cases at Scouter's Hall in September.
Last June, the General Assembly approved enabling legislation allowing North Smithfield to open its very first municipal court. The enabling legislation empowered the town to hire Jarret, backup judge William P. Devereau, and a clerk and to enact ordinances governing the personnel, operation and procedure of the court.
A $20,237 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was used to fund all the start up equipment needed, including software, furniture and recording equipment.
Town officials anticipate that the court will generate a gross income of about $75,000 for the town. Annually, the court is expected to cost $23,000 to operate with an anticipated net income of $52,000 per year.
It was Hamilton who made the pitch for establishment of a town municipal court in November of 2009, an idea that was eventually embraced and approved by the Town Council.
According to town officials, the local court allows for more efficient local enforcement of minor police violations such as trespassing and disorderly conduct, as well as traffic violations and zoning infractions. And, in addition to potentially reaping upwards of $75,000 a year in new revenues for the town, the court is accelerating the legal process for disposition of local violations and helping to cut town costs, such as those resulting when town officials, including police, travel to courts outside the town to represent the community.
Several of Rhode Island’s municipal courts have their origins in local police courts, which were established as early as 1866 in Providence. Other courts, such as those in Central Falls, Johnston and Pawtucket also have their origins in locally-established police courts.
The purpose of the municipal court is to hear and determine cases of violation of town ordinances. The municipal court also has jurisdiction over traffic violations brought by the local police department as well as parking tickets.
Since 1990, the number of municipal courts in Rhode Island has doubled. Currently 23 of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns have established municipal courts.
There are five towns which have legislative authorization, but have not, as yet, established a court. They are Charlestown, Exeter, Jamestown, North Kingstown and Smithfield.
The remaining 11 towns have no municipal courts, including Glocester, Barrington, Foster, Little Compton, New Shoreham, Portsmouth, Richmond, Scituate, South Kingstown and West Greenwich.
The Burrillville municipal court was established by statute in May 1999 by the Rhode Island legislature.