Getting a traffic ticket is no fun, especially if a court appearance is required at Cook County, which could often mean waiting for several hours to appear before a judge. Now Winnetka officials are hoping to make hearings for village code violations more customer friendly.
The village is moving forward with a proposed administrative hearing process that would offer people a chance to appear before a hearing officer in Winnetka rather than appealing the violation at Cook County Court.
“There’s nothing wrong in the community that we can’t service now or enforce now that we need this process to fix,” Winnetka Police Chief Patrick Kreis said during a study session on Oct. 9. “This is just a much more efficient process for the citizens.”
Nearby communities such as Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Lake Forest and Northfield already have a similar hearing process to handle local ordinance violations.
Hearing Process for Village Code Violations
Village staff are recommending that the administrative hearing process be initially limited to village code violations that are issued by the police department, such as parking, local licensing, sale of fireworks, leaf blowers and construction hours, and expand once experienced is developed.
“This is adding an option for us to use, it’s not excluding us,” Kreis said.
Winnetka police would still have the ability to issue violator tickets that would send them to Cook County Court, Kreis said.
The processed hearing process is still at the preliminary stage and village staff still needs to determine the operation costs, create a draft with the next legal steps and requirements sought in hearing officer candidates.
The Village Council indicated it was in favor of moving forward with the program for the potential benefits for residents and village staff.
Process Could Benefit Residents, Staff
Residents would have easier access to the hearings, appeal violations in a more relaxed and understandable hearing process, access to a written hearing and see improved fairness in fines and fees assessed, according to a village document.
Since 2010, Cook County has imposed a minimum mandatory court fee of $165 for each ticket resulting in a disposition other than not guilty, so someone contesting a $25 parking ticket could face additional payment of at least $165 if they are found guilty.
“Is it fair for someone facing a $25 fine to now be responsible for a $165 minimum court cost?” Kreis said.
The proposed hearing process would allow the village to set a hearing fee, which village officials say would go toward offsetting the operating costs of the administrative hearing process rather than be a revenue-generating channel. Hearing fees in other communities with the administrative hearing process typically range from $25 to $50, according to a village document.
Keeping Fines Local
Kreis says the process would also benefit the village in decreased staff time for court appearances, eliminate staff time spent conducting parking ticket review process and revenues from fines and costs would not be shared with Cook County.
The village is said to receive about 45 percent of fines from the Circuit Court but the increase in mandatory court fees has reduced the fine sharing agreement to 21 percent, according to a village document.
“If someone goes to the adjudication hearing is so dissatisfied with process, they still have the ability to go to court and to challenge the appeal at the Circuit Court,” Kreis said.