Court comes to Uniontown

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2005

In Uniontown, the cry “Take ’em to court” has always meant taking them somewhere outside of Uniontown, most likely the Perry County courthouse in Marion. But after Tuesday night’s meeting of the Uniontown City Council, that’s going to change.

The Council, under the leadership of Mayor Phillip White, voted unanimously Tuesday to establish a new Municipal Court in Uniontown. The “Muni” court will hear all misdemeanor cases arising within the city’s police jurisdiction, such as traffic complaints and business fines.

The motivation for creating the court stems from the lack of revenue Uniontown sees from tickets written by its own officers, White explained during the Tuesday meeting.

“Whenever someone goes to court over a ticket,” he said, “we’re not receiving any benefit. At the most, we get 8 or 9 dollars out of it, and we may not even get that. The money is going to either the county or the state.”

The problem is that, with no court of its own, all court costs paid for Uniontown tickets currently go to where the case is heard. White said that the city may, in fact, lose money on many of the tickets its officers write.

“When an individual decides to take his ticket to court,” he said, “our officers have to be present to testify. If the case is at the end of a docket, our officers may end up staying in court for 3 or 4 hours. The officers are paid for their time spent there, so when the city only receives a few dollars from the ticket, the net result is that the city has lost money.”

Uniontown Police Chief Donald Rhodes told the Council that he believed the city was only receiving, in his estimation, “five dollars back” on its average ticket.

The need to keep ticket revenue in town ensured the support of the Council, but the ordinance to create the court did not pass without some measure of discussion. Councilman Don Moore, responding to a comment by Councilman Terry Bassett, expressed some concern that the new Court should not create motivation within the Uniontown Police Department to write tickets just for revenue’s sake. Bassett and White, however, assured Moore that additional, unnecessary tickets were neither the motivation for the Court nor would be the case in practice.

The ordinance and both subsequent court-related ordinances (to grant the court enforcement of both state and local misdemeanor charges) passed without any opposing votes or abstensions.

The new court will take some time to prepare and put into action. Candidates for the municipal judge’s chair must be reviewed, the position’s compensation determined, a place and times for court to be held chosen, and the judge hired by Council approval. But for White, it represents not only a source of revenue, but another step forward in Uniontown’s progress.

“I’ve talked to municipal court officials in cities like Demopolis, Selma, Greensboro,” he said. “They told me the system works very well for them. This is something we’ve really wanted to do.”