According to the Utah 2010 Fiscal Year Report on justice court revenue, Utah justice courts collected close to $60 million from fines and fees. The top five cities and counties that raised the most money through the justice courts included Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Sandy, Davis and Utah counties, which combined a total of over 16.5 million. This abuse of power and incentive to make money by the justice court system has been steadily rising over recent years
KSL TV recently did a four month long investigation on some questionable activities going on inside the city run Justice courts which operate outside the purview of the state’s judiciary.
Kent Hart, Executive Director of Utah Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys said to KSL TV, “Unfortunately the ‘wild, wild West’ is alive and well in justice courts”. He further went on to say, “The justice courts are extremely profitable. There is a financial motive for keeping these courts. The Judges use the threat of incarceration in order to extract money.”
Many of the other attorneys did not want to speak out for fear of retribution from municipal court judges.
We in turn did our own in depth investigation, speaking to inmates in southern Utah’s county jails and researched the role of the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission. Some of the discoveries were quite appalling. These courts operate virtually without any supervision beyond that of their sponsoring cities which conveniently enough, rely on the courts as municipal milking cows to generate millions of dollars in fines and fees. Among the many discrepancies unraveled, it seems judges are slapping on rather severe punishments for relatively minor infractions while making random rulings by evading the normal rules of jurisprudence. This diplomatic dance by the judges can be linked to the court prosecutors who in my opinion, are the backbone to the ’empire building’ courts here in Utah. No doubt the final word must come from the judge, but this doesn’t seem to be the case in many county courts. Attending public court hearings of recent, I noticed prosecutors have an established coercive bearing that often influences the power over the judge and that in the end, it is the prosecutor who decides the fate of so many defendants, not the judge. As for the Judicial Conduct Commission, they meet in secret and the only time one is aware of any activity on their part is when they issue a public reprimand of some sort, which is quite rare.
The bigger problem seems to be once you are locked up in the county jail. It becomes a money-making racket from the get go. Defendants who have not had a hearing for weeks, are forced to pay $10 per day for their resort accommodation. This usually comes out of family-member pockets. Then there is the daily basic expenses of toiletry, medication, coffee, sugar, etc. These items can be purchased out of a ‘jail-catalog’ which costs twice as much as any retail store in the area. Many of these necessities for senior citizens are directly cashed out of their monthly retirement paychecks. Conclusion: keeping anyone in jail really is, an added bonus to raking in the millions.
Most defendants are required to complete a Life Skill Offense Corrections Home Study Program.
The program costs $85 and must be completed within a month with a passing grade or one forfeits the cost. The book reaches the defendant almost two weeks after it was requested. The study program covers chapters relating to different crimes like drug use, theft, DUI, etc. To my knowledge the book has many flaws, including but not limited to, poor English, explanations that end up as confused examples and many options to answers that don’t make a lot of sense. Frankly speaking, there is very little to learn from it, and one may need to be brain dead to be oblivious to the crime committed. Because of the many chapters involved most never complete the program on time……..oops there goes another quick money making scheme and $85 out of pocket!
But wait, it gets even worse. Many of the young non-mormon mothers in jail, who cannot pay bail (because the bail was set ridiculously high), often loose custody of their children while awaiting trial, and in some cases the children are adopted into mormon families. Which questions the fine line between government and religion here in Utah. And then there are the court appointed attorneys. They turned out to be the biggest farce in every sense. Even though clients are required to pay court-appointed attorney restitution, the attorneys are still loyal to the courts…… the hand that feeds the mouth.
Hey, but this is the USA, not Iran,Turkey or even Egypt where one has no rights. There is no threat to our civil liberty rights, right? The constitution isn’t being attacked in any way, right? Of course not, just ask the prosecutors and judges, they are never wrong. And by the way, who said Utah was in the USA?