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Judges, Hasson At Odds Over Traffic Fines

Spokane County Commissioner Steve Hasson wants “high-and-mighty” District Court judges to stop discounting tickets for traffic and parking violations.

The county should not give up any money, he said, while its budget is in a bind.

So he recently asked a county computer programmer to determine the amount of fines reduced by each judge and court commissioner.

Wayne Hannas, the county’s programming services manager, said it couldn’t be done. The Washington Supreme Court sets the amount of all traffic fines statewide, except parking, and tracks that information on the state computer system.

Even so, Hasson’s suggestion ignited a firestorm among judges, who note the judiciary is independent of government’s legislative and executive arms.

Hasson’s attempt to turn District Court into a cash register, Judge Sam Cozza said, would be like Bill Clinton dictating policy to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

In his letter to Hannas, Hasson referred to fines as a “reliable county funding source.” He sent the Dec. 12 letter to the nine judges and two court commissioners.

Cozza fired back, calling Hasson’s suggestion “incredibly offensive.”

“Nowhere does our oath say judges have a duty to help bail out the county commissioners or City Council when they cannot balance their budgets!” he wrote.

Until about two years ago, traffic and parking offenders could whack their tickets in half simply by showing up at District Court’s front counter.

Because of changes mandated by the state Supreme Court, the maximum discount now offered in Spokane County is 33 percent - if an offender has no more than one moving violation in the past two years.

For someone with two or three violations in the past two years, the reduction is 33 percent minus $10; there is no reduction for someone with four or more violations in the past two years.

Cozza said judges must have the discretion to reduce some tickets. That way, first-time offenders are not treated the same as habitual bad drivers.

Even with reductions, District Court records indicate, fine revenues are up this year to nearly $2 million from less than $1.7 million for all of 1994.

The number of tickets written has dropped, however, from 33,910 last year to 30,627 so far in 1995.

Cozza attributed the revenue increase to collections made on tickets written in prior years.

Hasson said he just wants to know exactly how much revenue is lost in the discounting process and vows to press on.

“I’m not going to back off,” he said. “I want the public to know what kind of gratuity (discount) they’ve got going on over there.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Ticket income