27 January 2007

is woodworth a speed trap?

boss hog photo courtesy sachs report

this morning the town talk printed the following your mail (see link) and we note that louisiana state senator joe mcpherson lives in woodworth.

Is Woodworth a speed trap?

For the fiscal year 2006 Woodworth collected $971,529 [752,594 eur] in court revenue. That is about $650 [504 eur] per resident of the town that has a population of about 1,500 and was 80 percent of the town's operating budget. No other municipality even comes close to that statistic. The second closest that could be found was the tiny neighboring village of McNary. In 2005, their court collected $56,000 [43,380 eur] or $265 [205 eur] per resident. The 2006 statistics have not yet been released.

Louisiana and Ohio are the only states that continue to allow the existence of a mayor's court. In 1999, mayor's courts were declared unconstitutional by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ohio's chief justice Thomas Moyer says that there is an inherent conflict of interest when a fine goes into a budget that the mayor controls. He goes on to say that this system blurs the bright line of impartiality.

State Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, and state Rep. Charlie DeWitt, D-Alexandria, have, since the 1999 federal ruling, introduced legislation that allows for the towns of Woodworth and McNary to appoint, rather than elect their chiefs of police, thus transferring all authority of the police departments to the office of mayor. So now a mayor can control the police, who write the tickets, the court that adjudicates the fines and receives the revenue into the town budget. I find this appalling in light of the federal court ruling.

I've heard that when a mayor's court employs an attorney or magistrate to adjudicate the fines, then that municipality is allowed to keep a larger percentage of fines and forfeits. However, if the mayor presides over the court a larger percentage of fines must go to the district court to cover the cost of appeals and related expenses.

According to the Louisiana Legislative Auditors report, Woodworth employed and budgeted for a magistrate for the fiscal year 2005. Fines collected for that year are $787,166 [609,778 eur]. For the year 2006, there was no magistrate, nor was one budgeted for, However an increase of almost $185,000 [143,310 eur]. in court revenue was budgeted for and collected for a total of just under $1 million [774,650 eur].

These figures beg the question, did Woodworth anticipate a sudden and massive decline in safety from 2005 to 2006? If so why? Or did they anticipate a decline in retained earnings based on the loss of their town magistrate?

In my opinion, Woodworth fails the public safety "smell test." Those who defend speed traps always try to stand on the ground of moral superiority. I have heard comments such as, "stop whining because you got caught breaking the law" and "no speeding, no ticket, no problem."

They can justify cruel citations to hurricane evacuees, detaining women in labor going to the hospital, you name it with this moralistic poppycock. But when a town anticipates a decrease in revenue and plays catch-up with the motoring public, is that honest? Is that morally superior? I do not think so.

Suzanne Thompson
see also
ward v. village of monroeville, 409 U.S. 57 (1972) - alternative url
and also
putting things into perspective: the woodworth speed trap
related posts:
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  • woodworth louisiana speed trap capital of the free world
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  • search this blog * charlie dewitt
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