Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) issued praise to the Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Court Operations, Fines and Fees for their comprehensive report which, after a 16 month investigation, “revealed a number of significant concerns where aggressive reform is needed. Many of those issues identified by the Committee undermine both the administration of justice and the independence of the Municipal Courts.”
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon praises the Supreme Court’s proposed Municipal Court Reforms. (SenateNJ)
“In law enforcement and judicial systems, profit is the mortal enemy of justice,” Senator O’Scanlon said. “We must take real steps towards reforming municipal court and ticketing procedures. Policing for profit is an unacceptable practice that tarnishes the reputation of all our upstanding police officers and often results in devastating consequences for petty infractions.”
“Municipal Courts should be about the administration of justice, not a profit center to plug holes in local governments’ budgets,” O’Scanlon continued. “In the twenty-five years since our Courts were last reformed, too many towns have come to rely on fines to fund their municipal operations and too many local judges have turned into de facto tax collectors. This is not justice and it has to stop.”
O’Scanlon is considering a number of reforms, including:
• Enhanced screening and training for municipal court judges
• Extending the terms and possibly create tenure for municipal court judges
• Reworking how fine revenue is distributed to remove direct profit motivation.
• Increased use of technology in administering local justice.
• Encouraging court consolidation.
“Policing for profit has become the norm for too many municipalities,” O’Scanlon added. “It has become so accepted that many local officials don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong. Pressure to write more tickets and generate more revenue is routinely applied to police. When considering the hiring of judges there is open discussion of how aggressive candidates will be in generating revenue. That perverts our justice system and damages peoples’ faith and trust in our police. Neither the institution nor our dedicated cops deserve that. Our overarching goal should be the greatest amount of compliance and safety with the least amount of punishment. Ticket revenue need to be used to modify behavior when necessary, not to balance budgets.”
O’Scanlon has been working with the Administrative Office of the Courts to ensure reforms are appropriate and effective. His reform plan announcement comes at the same time as the release of the Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Court Operations, Fines, and Fees report.
“We are grateful for the extensive work that the committee has done here in putting together forty-nine recommendations to address these serious issues. Many of the issues and policy ideas we are tackling in our reforms are addressed in the report. I look forward to continuing the process of implementing the Committee’s other recommendations and restoring faith in our justice system.”
O’Scanlon acknowledged that these reforms will be initially unpopular with municipal officials who have been using fines to balance their budgets. He challenges those officials to join him in continuing to reform government with greater efficiencies.
“When we implemented the two-percent local spending cap eight years ago, many officials thought it was doomsday. But we also gave them the tools to do the job and the best and brightest got to work and created savings and efficiencies,” O’Scanlon said. “Now many towns are consistently passing budgets within the cap while maintaining services. We need to keep doing that and more, especially regarding this issue which is one of justice and fundamental fairness.”