In a new Salt Lake City “justice court” that finishes its first year of operation this month, defendants are 11 times less likely to have their traffic tickets dismissed than they were when traffic cases were handled in a state court, the Deseret News reports. A report for the Salt Lake City Council found that state judges dismissed 34 percent of the city’s traffic cases during a six-month period in 1998. By comparison, the city’s justice court has dismissed only 3 percent of all traffic tickets. Fine collections are up from $2.7 million to $3.4 million annually.
Prosecutor Kent Morgan suggested the numbers mean more people are paying for crimes, and rightly so. Debra Moore, president-elect of the Utah State Bar Association, agreed that justice courts have improved in recent years with judicial oversight from the state Judicial Council and more training for justice court judges.
Proponents of justice courts say they offer swifter resolution to minor crimes and traffic offenses than does the crowded state court system. Opponents note that justice courts offer no separation of powers and are therefore ripe for corruption because they are part of the executive branch, and judges are hired and fired by city officials.