Posted March 19, 2017
The municipal court in River Falls, located in the basement of City Hall, may not be well known, but it serves an important role in keep law and order in the community.
The court handles all citations issued by the River Falls Police Department (RFPD), the Fire Department and the Inspection Department. The citations include violations of traffic laws, building codes and animal-related ordinances, as well as statutes relating to behavior, alcohol and more.
River Falls is one of about 240 local governments in the state with a municipal court, according to the most recent directory published by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In Pierce County, the only other community with a municipal court is Prescott. The courts are more prevalent in St. Croix County, with eight including one in Hudson.
Deanne Koll is the prosecuting attorney for the River Falls municipal court.
“Local municipalities can create a municipal court to hear municipal infractions. So, instead of sending all of your municipal citations to circuit court, which is the county court… you can dispose of those citations within your statutorily made municipal court”, Koll said.
Koll has a busy job as the prosecuting attorney.
“The prosecuting attorney serves at the pleasure of the city council,” she said. “I’m there to advocate for the city on citations that are issued by the police department. I represent the city and its constituents.”
Traffic stops are the most common violation contested by defendants.
“If someone goes to the initial appearance to contest the citation, they get a date and time when they meet with me,” Koll said. “That’s called a pre-trial. At the pre-trial conference, we talk about why they’re contesting it, the facts upon which they are contesting it, the issues that they had.” Sometimes people aren’t contesting that it happened, rather they have some other issue like losing their license, or not knowing about the particular traffic laws, or even extreme cases like having to rush a family member to the hospital. Koll said she has seen it all.
During a pre-trial Koll usually comes to an agreement with the defendant.
“We usually dispose of those through stipulation and order where I agree to do something: Put them on a payment plan, or if they have compelling reason why they are not guilty, then dismiss the ticket, or send them to a restorative justice class to help them learn. We can come up with whatever agreement that I think is still serving the interest of the city,” Koll said.
If Koll and the defendant cannot come to an agreement, then that matter is set for trial with Judge June Cicero. The municipal court judge is an elected position with a four-year term.
“We’ve had trials and that is certainly the defendant’s right and so they can request to be heard and sometimes that’s just what they need, they just need to say their side and have a judge decide,” said Koll.
Deputy Chief Jon Aubart of the River Falls Police Department (RFPD), said officers need to be prepared in case a citation is contested.
“If it’s a speeding ticket, then they have to get all the documentation and the certification for the speedometer in the squad for the radar unit… that’s all part of the requirement that we do that and show that the speed detection devices are operating properly,” Aubart said. Different kinds of preparation and documentation are required for different cases.
RFPD does not want to issue tickets that have the chance to be contested.
“We want good, solid tickets,” Aubart said. “So if you were to look at them on a scale of one to 10, we want to be writing eight, nines and 10s. We don’t want marginal tickets. That’s not good for the community, it’s not good for the department.”
In Aubart’s opinion, the municipal court helps keep officers accountable.
“We’re pretty fortunate here because we have a very good municipal judge. She’s fair. She’ll hold you to task and you have to do things the proper way.”
Cicero has been the municipal court judge since 1984.
The article may be found online at https://uwrfjournalism.org/2017/03/river-falls-municipal-court-has-important-role-in-citys-law-and-order/.