Which NJ municipal courts are ripping off people? Lawmaker wants to know
A New Jersey lawmaker is pushing ahead with a plan to reform how municipal courts operate so that they don’t impose outlandish fines and fees.
After introducing legislation a few weeks ago to allow defendants to earn credits toward fines if they complete court orders to help them turn their lives around, state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, is sponsoring a bill to that would require towns be more transparent in reporting financial penalties that are collected at the local level.
“Believe it or not, right now there is no central data base of this information," he said.
The State Police keeps track of moving violations and criminal charges, the judiciary keeps track of monetary fine amounts and the municipalities control information on ordinance violations, which means there is no central database and no real way to get a clear picture of which town is doing what, and how excessive the fines they’re charging may be.
“If we’re going to try to fix this system we have to be able to know and measure what the system is generating and inflicting now," he said.
O’Scanlon said some towns are using excessive fines for all sorts of infractions to help support themselves financially.
He noted when we’re able to collect this data in one centralized system we’ll be able to clearly see “which municipalities are using the justice system not for safety and education, but to balance their budgets.”
“Right now you could see neighboring municipalities with the same infraction — one might have a $150 fine, which is a perfectly reasonable deterrent, and a neighboring municipality may have a $1,500 fine. Those abusive practices are what diminish people’s faith in the justice system across the board.”
The measure also stipulates that any municipality that does not provide the requested information in a timely manner would be financially penalized.
Anyone issued a ticket in a non-compliant town would only be required to pay more than $25 until the state Department of Community Affairs certified that the town had become compliant.
O’Scanlon has also introduced a bill to extend the term of municipal judges so they would not be as easily swayed to impose excessive fines suggested by local officials, a problem highlighted by a state Supreme Court report on municipal courts issued this past summer.