A 3-HOUR WAIT TO PAY! GET A TRAFFIC TICKET, SUFFER IN COURT LINES.
The public waits up to three hours in line to pay traffic tickets at Los Angeles County courthouses, provoking temperamental reactions and even physical confrontations, a new report says.
The report, conducted by the county's 14-member Judicial Procedures Commission at the request of the Board of Supervisors, found long waits at all 28 former Municipal Courts that were studied.
The report blamed the long lines on a growing population and aging court facilities that don't have enough well-trained employees to handle the crowds. In addition, poorly written traffic notices fail to offer alternatives to appearing in court.
The report found waits of one hour were commonplace and all courts had significant lines at one time or another. Antelope Valley court officials reported waits up to two hours and Glendale officials reported three-hour waits.
``I went to the Van Nuys courthouse to pay my ticket and go to traffic school and it took me an hour and a half,'' said Kas Demian, marketing manager and a former cab driver for United Independent Taxi. ``I saw people leaving the line because they got tired of waiting.''
Ed Suter, a cab driver for Rush Cab in Santa Monica, said he has gotten more tickets than ``the average 12 people combined'' and usually waits 45 minutes to an hour.
``It seems to me for all the money they are raking in, they could have more people there to collect it,'' he said. ``It's like working with people at the DMV. They don't worry about moving fast. They move leisurely. In my opinion, people with city, county or state government jobs seem to realize they can do less and still get paid.''
After Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke received complaints about lines at the Compton courthouse, the county supervisors voted in June 1999 to ask the commission to study the issue.
The 90-page report took more than a year to compile and recommends that the courts start a countywide system that uses the Internet, telephone and other methods of payment that don't require people to appear in court. The commission has also recommended that law enforcement agencies avoid ``bunching'' court appearance days on Mondays by offering other days for citations issued on weekends and holidays.
Court officials, who were on holiday Monday, were unavailable to comment.
A survey by the commission found that very few people waiting in court lines were aware of any alternative to appearing in court.
``Unfortunately, we found fault with the courtesy notices people receive in the mail,'' said Neal Millard, chairman of the commission and a Los Angeles attorney. ``They are very difficult to read, very legalistic sounding and more threatening than helpful.''
In many cases, the long lines lead to hostile behavior, including short tempers, rudeness and verbal abuse of court employees. But some courts have reported physical confrontations with people pushing and shoving.
``This obviously is dangerous and, at the very least, lowers the morale of staff,'' Millard wrote. ``To a small degree, the visitors have some justification for their frustration. The staff, used to long lines, appear to be very indifferent to them and rather deliberately go about their other duties in clear view of the visitors waiting in line.''
Millard described the lines as ``unruly and chaotic'' and often place patrons in crowded, uncomfortable conditions.
``Since they are in lines, in most cases, to pay a fine, they are unhappy to begin with and their level of tolerance for delay and inefficiency is extremely low,'' Millard wrote.
One of the worst situations is at the Glendale courthouse, which has no parking.
``The whole experience of going to the Glendale courthouse is extremely frustrating,'' Millard said regarding his tour of the courthouse. ``You have to find something on the street, take public transportation or park at the mall.''
Complicating the problem, many of the transaction windows are also used to handle civil and criminal matters, and some are located upstairs in dark, narrow hallways.
``Visitors guilty of nothing more than traffic violations, including mothers who come with their small children, are subjected to the company of a more dangerous segment of society,'' Millard wrote.
The report found the court system is disorganized and lacks a system of allowing people to make alternatives to appearing in court.
One ticket notice the commission reviewed states that people can call a 900 number for a fee to avoid appearing in court, but says the service might not be applicable to all tickets.
``It then goes into threats of what will happen if the recipient fails to pay or bounces a check,'' Millard wrote. ``For good measure, it then says that the recipient better not come to court in shorts, T-tops or bare feet.''
The Municipal Courts became part of the Superior Court system when the courts unified last year in an effort to streamline the justice system.
Thanks to a more uniform system and improved communication among courts, court unification has helped reduce waits at some courthouses. But Millard said it will take another year before all the courts can accept credit card payments over the telephone or on the Internet.
``Hopefully, unification and this report will help the courts to focus on areas where they can eliminate the necessity to appear in court to pay fines, apply for traffic school and argue cases,'' Millard said.