The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 7:58 am

New Haven court cut from traffic tickets

Rebecca S. Green The Journal Gazette

Law enforcement officers working in Allen County can no longer file traffic tickets in New Haven City Court.

The decision by Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards came down early last month, and what it means for the future of the small city court is unknown.

But what it will mean for motorists in the area is that any traffic tickets will be handled now in Allen Superior Court.

Richards said she does not have the resources to staff the New Haven court with a deputy prosecutor.

Information about how much money it costs to run the New Haven City Court or how much money it brings in was unavailable Friday afternoon.

The court is not a court of record, which means that any appeal of the decision made by City Court Judge Geoff Robison must be taken to Allen County Superior Court.

Robison, who is running for re-election this year, is the only judge the court has ever had, taking the bench in 2000. The court was created by city ordinance in 1998.

He is not an attorney. Indiana law does not require town or city court judges to be licensed attorneys.

"Because I can’t staff his court, I don’t think it’s appropriate to have cases filed there," Richards said. "It’s really not going to be a burden on us because the number of tickets filed in Allen Superior Court has declined in the past few years."

She said she believed the city court handled about 500 tickets from within its city limits last year.

Now only tickets for violations of New Haven’s own ordinances can be filed in the court, Richards said.

Most of the tickets filed in New Haven’s city court, outside of New Haven police officers, came from the Indiana State Police and smaller Allen County towns.

Indiana law allows for traffic citations to be filed in any court in a particular jurisdiction. That means if a state police trooper pulled a driver over on the west side of Fort Wayne on Interstate 69, the trooper could issue a ticket summoning the driver to New Haven, about 15 miles away.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Ron Galaviz said the troopers would abide by Richards’ edict.

"We can’t just say we’re not going to listen," he said. "Those tickets are supposed to be reviewed by the prosecutors. At the end of the day, she’s the chief law enforcement person in the county. We certainly abide by her directive and adjusted our practices accordingly."

While Robison could not be reached for comment late last week, Richards’ decision frustrates New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald, a former New Haven police officer.

Richards said she made her decision because of recent ethics recommendations and rules set out by the American Bar Association.

"(The ABA) … has made it clear that for a court like New Haven, we would have to staff that court fully to be able to file cases there," she said. "Since we can’t, our only choice was to not file cases there."

McDonald believes the city court helps relieve an Allen County court backlog and that those who are summoned to court in the bigger system will be inconvenienced.

"It’s efficient and it’s fast," McDonald said of his court. "You’re not waiting for dozens and dozens and dozens of other people."

Officers filing tickets might also find things more difficult, McDonald said.

"The whole idea of the city court is for our officers not to have to spend tons of hours (waiting for cases to be heard)," he said.

He said the court only asked Richards for a deputy prosecutor for six hours every month.

The New Haven city attorneys have advised Robison and McDonald that Richards might not have the authority to do what she did.

McDonald said they believe that state law requires Richards to provide a deputy prosecutor for any court within her jurisdiction.

And he doubts that every ticket filed in Allen Superior Court receives scrutiny by the prosecutor’s office.

Richards said they most assuredly do, either by a deputy prosecutor or an investigator.

Richards contends that state law says she must provide a deputy prosecutor to handle cases, but it does not specify where those cases are going to be handled. She knows where they won’t be handled from now on, and that’s the New Haven City Court.

McDonald is not sure what will happen to the court, without the presence of Allen County and state violations filed.

But if Roanoke is any clue, the future is bleak.

Huntington County Prosecutor Amy Richison pulled all tickets other than those for Roanoke ordinances from the Roanoke Town Court at the end of 2012.

The court no longer exists.

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