New York - Traffic Courts Bring Big Bucks to Municipalities
New York - It’s standing room only in Judge Bonnie Kraham’s Tuesday afternoon traffic court in Town of Wallkill.
Nearly 100 people fill the chairs and line the walls of the courtroom, waiting for their turn in front of the judge. It’s a scene that plays out here four days a week: traffic and criminal court, in front of Kraham and fellow town Judge Ray Shoemaker.
And it results in big bucks for the public coffers.
According to the state comptroller’s office, Wallkill’s court collected a shade under $2 million in revenue in 2008, the most of any town or village court in the region, and 11th highest in the state.
The Town of Newburgh court was the second-most lucrative, taking in just over $1.5 million, 20th in the state. The Town of Ulster was tops among Ulster County town and village courts, at just over $950,000, while the Town of Mamakating’s $600,000 in revenue led Sullivan County courts.
Wallkill’s numbers are a testament to how busy the court in this town of 27,000 has become in recent years: It handled more than 16,000 cases last year, with nearly 12,000 defendants.
And the biggest causes for that swollen caseload lie about a mile from the courthouse: Interstate 84, Route 17 and Route 211. Between those three roads, it’s no wonder that more than 13,000 of Wallkill’s cases last year were vehicle and traffic law violations.
It’s also no wonder that out of the $2 million the Town Court collected in 2008, the town only kept about $930,000. Approximately $973,000 went to the state — much of it, Town Clerk Wendy Michaels says, in the form of mandatory surcharges tacked on to fines. The county gets the rest.
Wallkill’s caseload shows no signs of letting up this year: The court has already handled about 12,000 cases with five months to go. And the court will be short one judge within two months — Shoemaker is retiring on Sept. 16.
His replacement would be elected in November, but Michaels hopes the town will appoint an interim judge before then. The thought of one judge dealing with an overflowing courtroom, not to mention arraignments at all hours of the night?
“It would be awful,” Michaels said.
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