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June 23, 2018

Fine Forgiveness: Luther Offers Amnesty Program


“My advice is for you to get on the phone and call someone who believes in you and loves you who will pay this fine for you.” That’s counsel Luther Town Prosecutor Brent Coldiron gives those who come to court before the judge takes the bench to preside over the day’s docket.

“He’s a very strict judge,” he tells them. “I’ve rarely seen him reduce a fine or accept a payment plan.” Coldiron also tells those who’ve either come to fight a ticket, get it reduced or ask for a trial, that he rarely loses. Coldiron represents the Town or Police Department when someone disputes their citation.

During’s Luther’s municipal court last Wednesday, many took the “probation” option and paid their ticket and an additional $188 probation fee. If their record stays clean for six months, their record (and insurance) is not affected. Others pleaded guilty or no contest. There were more than ten persons on the docket who didn’t bother to pay their fine on time or come to court, Judge Haynes ordered a “bench warrant” for them that could lead to their arrest, and an additional $344 fine.

Is there a topic that gets us more fired up than getting a ticket? Bring up the subject sitting in the stands at the game, at the local restaurants or on social media, and most everyone has a story riddled with outrage, whether or not we admit we were speeding, running the stop sign, or driving under the influence.

Tickets hurt us in our wallets.

And that’s the idea, according to Judge Stephen Haynes. At Luther’s court held twice a month, His Honor reminds those gathered that they are there to be punished for breaking the law, not to be extended credit.

“We live in such a credit society; this is not the grocery store, or where you come to make a payment on a debt. Court is where you pay a penalty for violations of the law,” he told the Luther Register, noting he neither writes the laws nor sets the fine schedule. Haynes demands you pay the fine the day it’s due, or go to jail.

“It’s unusual that I ever truly send someone to jail. Those who truly cannot pay, don’t run that risk,” he said. Recently, a father tried to get a Christmas Day ticket reduced. He explained to the judge and the prosecutor that he was speeding to rescue his daughter who was in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend who was threatening to burn down their house. He said he couldn’t afford the fines nor the points against his driving record.

The speed limit on Highway 66 in Luther Town Limits is 45 mph. And on Luther Road, in the construction area south of town and past 164th, the speed limit is 35 mph. 

Coldiron told him to get on the phone to find the money, which was found after the man’s wife called a family member. The judge also lectured the man about the dangers of speeding and admonished him for not calling the authorities to help in the volatile situation. The daughter who spoke to the court on her dad’s behalf, later murmered an expletive as she exited the courtroom, disappointed in the process.

The Town Board of Trustees sets the bond schedule and recently updated it. Click here for the fines, and all of the fees that go to the state, the court and for technology.

These days, a  speeding ticket going from one – ten miles over the limit costs $248 with fines and fees.

But the Town is offering a grace period of reducing fees and costs to tackle a backlog of citations.

Until February 10, the Town offers an “Amnesty Program.” The program doesn’t forgive tickets, but strikes some fines and fees, including “failure to appear” and bench warrants.

Court Clerk Minnie Moore says she doesn’t know how many outstanding tickets the town has, but she has some that date back to 2002. She says if anyone has an old ticket, and will call or go online to pay the original fine, the Town will forgive all additional fees except for $50. So the amnesty program allows one to pay a ticket and a $50 fee. If a driver’s license has been suspended for not paying a fine, the Luther amnesty program could help get it reinstated.

Moore spends the day before municipal court calling all of those appearing on the docket. She leaves a lot of voice mail messages with a gentle reminder. For those she does reach, she says she hears many stories of folks who say they can’t pay. But she listens and understands. She said she won’t tell anyone what to do with their money, but encourages them to take care of their tickets.

Until February 10, the amnesty program will help those with outstanding citations to resolve them at a reduced cost.

The Luther Police Department reported to the Town Board they wrote 45 citations for the month of November. The December report given to the Board lists 76 citations were issued, and four warnings.

 

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