Monett Municipal Court had an average year in 2009, based on summary statistics released by Court Clerk Mechele Tharp. It was the first year under Municipal Judge Michael D. Garrett. Several trends were evident in revenue and case resolutions.
Court sessions continue to be held on Tuesdays, processing between 75 and 175 cases per session. The court works daily in coordinating its functions with city police and in working with Prosecuting Attorney Amy Boxx and local attorneys to process cases in a timely manner.
Income for the court reflected a general rise in revenues from 12 of 14 categories. The total from fines was $156,618, a drop of $13,000 from the previous year. Total income ended the year at $216,426, a drop of a little over $4,000 from 2008.
Outside of fines, the biggest increase in income was
in warrant fees. The city collected $9,801.50, up nearly $4,000 from 2008. Recouping expenses for jail incarceration brought in $3,258, the largest amount collected in four years and up from $361.50 in 2008.
"We now have a jail where people can be humanely kept. That was not always the case," Judge Garrett said. "I'm getting information that court did not get before that says how many days a person has spent in jail awaiting trial. If I don't know how days a person has been jailed, there is no way to assess the $35-per-day cost stated in city ordinances for being in jail."
Court costs brought in $16,585.50, an increase of about $1,600 from 2008. Recoupment for expenses in making arrests for driving while intoxicated generated $4,890, up more than $1,400 from the previous year.
One exception to the trend was restitution. The court received $4,629 to pay back crime victims, a slight drop of a little over $300 from the previous year and the lowest total in five years. Garrett said he orders restitution every time it is requested. He did not recall dealing with a great number of cases involving property damage in the past year and felt that was probably due to good fortune as much as anything else.
Total cases entered in court were 1,787 in 2009, down 112 from 2008, in the mid-range of case totals over the past five years. Cases disposed in the year came to 2,081, up over 300 from the previous year for the second highest total in five years.
The court issued 562 warrants in 2009, up 21 percent from 2008 and the second highest total in five years.
One of the distinctive trends Judge Garrett showed in his rulings in contrast to past years. In 225 cases he placed parties on probation, issuing a suspended sentence. In previous years around one-third of that many cases received suspended sentences.
"Probation is designed to keep people on the straight and narrow," Garrett told The Times. "I found probation to be successful in Barry County [as an associate circuit court judge]. I have not had to revoke anyone's probation in Monett."
Garrett said he used probation often in traffic cases. He and Prosecutor Boxx discussed options in dealing with people arrested without a driver's license or insurance.
"In a lot of driving related cases, a person has finally gotten a license." Garrett said. "Both the city attorney and I feel if the person is willing to get a license and insurance, so they don't keep getting tickets for driving illegally and having no insurance, we'll put them on probation so they keep their license, rather than fining them $100. Being without insurance doesn't solve a thing, subjecting the public to more risk, like a ticking time bomb."
Almost all the cases brought to municipal court stayed in the city. Only three cases were transferred to the county, compared to eight in 2008. Two requested jury trials, compared to 28 in 2008.
Garrett said the higher number of cases resolved in the city was "probably the most significant difference in the report" and one that pleased him. Concluding cases in municipal court brought about a quicker resolution and offered less expense to the city. Jury trials in Cassville involved the added expense of multiple trips by the city prosecutor to the county court.
Records showed 509 cases were dismissed in 2009, about double the number of cases dropped in each of the previous two years. The higher number of dismissals was a response to the last audit, Garrett said, showing a backlog of pending cases and some warrants that had been outstanding for the five years.
"The city attorney and I early on went through old cases and sent letters to each one of the defendants who had warrants outstanding," Garrett said. We said if you come in, we'll withdrawn the warrants and allow time to dispose the case without time in jail. We sent around 400 letters and had a fair response.
"Amy then went through the remaining ones and eliminated the cases that were not viable. Some had been filed by officers who no longer worked for the city. She dismissed cases to get the number down to a manageable amount. All courts do that periodically," Garrett said.
Boxx did not file 38 cases placed before her, up nine from the previous year. Garrett said whether or not a case is filed rests on three different checkpoints in the process. Police make the initial decision if a city ordinance has bee violated. The officer's report goes to the city attorney, who checks the case against the actual ordinance. If the case is filed in court, and the defendant pleads not guilty, the judge then determines guilt or innocence.
"The three checkpoints are there to protect the accused," Garrett said.
Three cases in the year resulted in not guilty decisions, down five from 2008.
Garrett said each judge has personal priorities. He felt next year, when there were two years under the same judge, it would be easier to compare the court's activity.
"It's been a super year," Garrett concluded. "Mechele Tharp does a wonderful job. Amy Boxx does a fine job as prosecutor. I feel we have a good supporting team, along with the police department."
A summary of the different kinds of cases processed in the Monett Municipal Court during 2009 follow. A comparison to the number of cases handled in 2008 is shown in parentheses:
|Affray 3( +3), Allow Non-Licensed driver to drive 1 (+1), Animal abuse/neglect 3 (-1), Assault-3rd degree 24 (-6), Assault-domestic 44 (+4) Assault on police officer 2 (+1), Barking dogs 3 (+1), Careless and imprudent driving 21 (+1), Child restraint violation||29 (+21), Defective equipment 8 (-88),|
|Discharging airgun 1 (+1), Disobedient to traffic direction||1(+1), Disobedient to traffic control device 20 (first year listed), Disorderly conduct||8 (-17), Display plates of another 19 (+1), Dog at large 18 (-5), Driving while intoxicated 50 (+3), Driving while revoked 42 (-1), Driving while suspended 79 (+20),|
|Excessive window tinting 54 (+52), Failure to display headlamps 1 (+1), Failure to display plates 1 (+1), Lacking insurance 269 (-25), Failure to maintain lane 9 (+4), Failure to register 185 (-95), Failure to secure load 2 (+2), Fail to stop||92||(-32), Fail to stop at railroad||1 (+1), Fail to yield 14 (-3), Fail to yield for emergency vehicle 3 (-5), False police report 3 (+3), Following too close 17 (-7),|
|Harassment||3 (-2), Phone harassment 3 (-5), Improper backing||6 (+2), Improper lane use 1 (+1), Improper passing 9 (+8), Improper turn||10 (+4), Inappropriate animal defecation 1 (+1), Indecenct exposure||1 (-1), Leaving scene of accident 15 (+4), Minor in possession of alcohol 24 (+6), Miscellaneous 2 (+2), No license on person 1 (-13), No valid license 135||(-32),|
|License expired 6 (+5), Not motorcycle qualified 1 (+1), Nuisance violation 4||(-3), Obstructing police officer 12 (-2), No business license 6||(+6), Driving wrong on one-way 5 (+5), Owning dangerous dog||2 (+2), Peace disturbance 5 (+2), Open container of alcohol 31 (-6), Possessing drug pharaphernalia 39 (+20), Possessing marijuana 34 (+12), Property damage 17 (+1), Maintenance code violation 1 (-11), Receiving stolen property 3 (+3), Resisting arrest 3 (-17), Improper riding 2 (+2),|
|Seat belt violation 11 (+5), Speeding 274 (+23), Stalking 2 (+2), Stealing 70 (+16), Tampering with meter 3 (+1), Trespassing||11 (+1), Prohibited U-turn||1 (+1), Unlawful use of weapon 2 (+2).|