Marksville mayor says city is being shorted in Ward/City Court fines
The lawsuit is over and there has been no recent threats concerning the Ward 2/Marksville City Court funding. However, that does not mean the issues involved in the inter-governmental fracas have ceased to be issues.
Marksville Mayor John Lemoine pointed out at the Feb. 8 City Council meeting that the city received $350 in fines/fees collected by City Court in January.
“That compares to $6,500 that went to the Police Jury,” he added with a scowl. “We spend $1.4 million to support a police department that issues 120 tickets and we get this in return,” Lemoine continued. “And then you wonder why we’re short on funds.”
“SICK AND TIRED”
The mayor said he is “sick and tired of being criticized every Sunday” in the Avoyelles Journal over his “feud” with City Court Judge Angelo Piazza III that resulted in City Court suing City Hall over the issue of whether the court’s funding could be cut.
He was referring to the newspaper’s “Alphonse” item, which has had several columns about Lemoine, Piazza and the City Court lawsuit.
The court ruled in Piazza’s favor and ordered the city to pay $70,000 in attorney’s fees to Piazza’s lawyers. A side issue to that case resulted in the Avoyelles Police Jury being forced to pay half of the City Court’s operating expenses. The law that created the court requires the two governments to pay an equal share of the court’s operating costs.
For many years, the council and the jury had a “gentleman’s agreement” that allowed the parish to pay a small portion of the costs while city covered the large majority of costs and received all of the fines and fees collected by the court. Since the “feud” scuttled that deal, jurors instructed the District Attorney’s Office to prosecute the traffic offenses and misdemeanor crimes in City Court under the state criminal code and not as violations of city ordinances. That change resulted in most fines and fees being directed to the parish. The city receives only fines and fees for such infractions as “saggy pants,” loud noise and other municipal ordinance violations.
POLICE RISK LIVES
Lemoine said it is not fair that city police officers risk their lives to issue tickets and make arrests that are resolved in City Court, and receive hundreds of dollars compared to the thousands given to the Police Jury.
Police jurors are also not pleased by the arrangement, noting that even with receiving the fines from City Court, the parish is losing money supporting a court they see as basically dealing with Marksville crimes and Marksville citizens.
While the court also handles cases in the unincorporated areas of Ward 2, most of the cases involve Marksville.
Police Jury President Charles Jones said he will be asking city officials to come to the negotiating table within the next few months to discuss the various issues. He hopes the city and parish can reach a new agreement before the City Council has to act on the court’s budget in June.
“A feeling among several jurors is that the court is basically city business and we should not be involved,” Jones said.
He said the jury was fine with “supplementing” the court by about $18,000 a year, because it felt that was probably a fair representation for the court cases generated in the unincorporated areas of Ward 2. “This court is costing the parish, but it is costing the city even more,” Jones said. He said that while the parish and the city are each paying over $100,000, the city is receiving far less in fines to cover its half of the operating costs.