Service top municipal court priority

A service to the public philosophy is the standard procedure for Tulsa Municipal Court.
That might not be the way people see it that appear before one of three judges and are required to pay a fine.
But Tony Cellino, who has been Tulsa Municipal Court administrator for two years, said the service concept is vital because it underscores to staff members the need to work with people.
Most people generally have no contact with any judicial system prior to their municipal court date, he said. Now they come to courtrooms at 600 Civic Center because either they or their children have received a citation. They don’t have any idea what to expect, but regardless of the outcome of the case, it is important they have a positive experience.
Tulsa’s Municipal Court, like the Oklahoma City Municipal Court, is a court of record. Records of all trials are maintained by a court reporter. Any challenges on a ruling by the judge or a jury can be appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Non-record municipal courts decisions are appealed to the district court.
In addition to court reporters, there also are bailiffs and a security staff.
Efforts to keep the municipal court ‘‘human’’ is seen when people seek an extension to their case. The staff can, with reasonable explanation, grant an automatic 10-day delay if a person needs time to get their case prepared.
Interpreters also are available to those needing an explanation of the proceedings, Cellino said. A Spanish language program for the court has been developed through Tulsa Community College.
The court also interpreters available for people appearing in court, but students are not allowed to actively participate. They have not been certified for the work.
The municipal court also utilizes public defenders for indigent clients, he said. An indigent is defined as a person who has been jailed and cannot make bond.
Tulsa’s municipal court has a variety of sentencing options available to the judges. They can require an individual to perform community service on city property. Two years ago that meant 20,000 hours of community service work was assigned in one year. The tasks are done on city property.
Another recent change has been the increase of the required bond for various tickets.
A typical bond for a speeding ticket now has been raised to $150, Cellino said. Before the change, a person facing a $120 speeding ticket would post and forfeit a $70 bond, saving $50. Now it is to their benefit to appear in court because the bond is higher than the ticket.
The municipal court has operated out of thee courtrooms since the mid ’60s, he said. A fourth courtroom, judge and staff is needed.
Juvenile cases also are handled on Wednesdays, he said. These cases are kept separate from others and courtroom windows are blocked when they are in session.
A juvenile probation officer can be assigned to work with young people, Cellino said. Depending upon the case, officers meet with counsel and make recommendations to the court. In most instances, the officers keep track of the youthful offenders, making certain they do the assigned work. When the required community service is satisfactorily completed, they sign off.
In that way, the court is able to better assist juveniles and hopefully help them understand there are consequences for their action.
Cellino said that since he has been court administrator, every effort has been made to establish a respect for the office.
Uniform dress requirements for bailiffs have been established. Now these individuals are required to wear a white shirt and tie. They also display a badge clearly denoting they are officers of the court. All court personnel were neatly dressed before the codes were established, the changes have made them more visible to the public.
Maintaining a court reporting pool has been solved by utilizing a Tulsa Technology Center program.
During the past 18 months a court reporting school has been developed to educate people in that career, he said. If someone in the court is absent, it is possible to draw from this pool.
Getting court reporter and other staff salaries raised also has helped keep staff and attract others.
Tulsa recently lost an outstanding court reporter, Cellino continued. This person was with the court about five years, but received an offer from her hometown. It made sense for her to take that job because of the commuting distance to her Tulsa job.
A booking system for Tulsa Municipal Court at the David L. Moss Center is operated 24/7, he said. Supervisors on call are authorized to handle every case involving city action. The system is set up to get people out on bond as soon as possible.
An early settlement program under the supervision of LeiLani Armstrong also assists the legal system.
The program, now 25 years old, gets civil cases out of the mainstream court. The early settlement program has a cadre of volunteers trained to get issues settled. The reality is that most people really want to get along with each other.
Allison Hall, interim public defender for the city, and part of the management team is an asset, making cost effective suggestions that improved communication at all department levels.
The city also is looking ahead to utilizing new technology that will enable officers in the field to be more efficient as they perform their duties.
The city council, particularly Councilor John Eagleton, is a big on technology, Cellino continued. If it can successfully be implemented, it will bring Tulsa’s municipal court and law enforcement out of the stone age and into the 21st Century.
Judge Dan Crawford is looking at the automatic courtroom that will benefit the city now and in the future.
One service on the horizon is the creation of a website that will let people find out about their citation and the approximate cost involved. This service is important so citizens can know what is going on and help them move through the court system more quickly.
Other technology that eventually will be implemented will allow officers to quickly determine whether or not there is an outstanding warrant for people that have been stopped for traffic violations.
A wireless, paperless citation system also is being reviewed. This will provide a more accurate tracking of tickets and immediate access by other officers.
The new computer system also will make it possible to see who owes a debt to the city, Cellino continued. That will include overdue parking tickets.
People have a tendency to blow off this citation, thinking they will never be held accountable, he said.
An aggressive effort started in April to collect these monies. At this time it has been possible to back to 2000 looking for past due monies from parking tickets.
People are getting letters letting them know the money is to be paid or their vehicle will be towed.
Parking officers on the street have a palm pilot and know immediately if tickets are outstanding. They have the authority to immediately have vehicles towed. When police cars are equipped with new computer equipment, it will be possible to scan license tags of vehicles parked on the street. Owners may find their vehicles being towed because of the overdue tickets.
The same rules apply to citations issued by the public works department and neighborhood nuisance violations, he added. Under the new system all tickets will be uniformly filed and handled accordingly.
‘‘We do have jury trials in municipal court,’’ Cellino added. People called to jury duty filled out surveys resulting in the waiting room being painted and a coffee pot being provided.
These people are providing a vital service and need to be as comfortable as possible until they are called to duty or released to back to work or home, he said.
Consideration is being given to adding one or two night courts to accommodate people who otherwise must take off work. These decisions will be made based on funding and staff considerations.
It is important that people realize that Tulsa’s municipal court is part of the judicial branch of government that is designed to help protect the community

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