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Popular new way to tell it to judge

Paying a traffic ticket is painful enough.

Having to sit around at the Spokane County Courthouse waiting to ask the judge to reduce the fine just makes it worse.

Good thing you don’t have to do that. You can send the judge or court commissioner an e-mail with your excuses and pleas instead.

In the two years since Spokane County District and Municipal Court began its e-Mitigation program, more than 1,200 people have pleaded their case online rather than in person.

That’s about 6 percent of the tickets that go through mitigation.

Only those admitting their traffic infractions and asking for reconsideration of the fines are eligible for the program. They must have scheduled a court date and then are able to submit their testimony via e-mail three days in advance of that date.

If you think you can talk your way out of the ticket entirely, you’ll still have to appear in court to give it a try.

District Court Administrator Ron Miles said each mitigation handled via computer saves staff about six minutes compared with those heard in court.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot, but you go with volume and it adds up real quick,” said Miles, who added that it saves the court at least $2,000 per year.

The court was a Washington leader on using e-mail for ticket mediation, and even helped Thurston County District Court get its program up and running in the summer of 2003, said that court’s presiding judge, Kip Stolz.

Though the e-mitigation program is used infrequently now, Stolz hopes use will increase as more people become comfortable with computers.

“We find this is mostly used by people who would have to travel quite a distance” to a hearing, he said.

Yakima County also offers mitigation via e-mail, as does the Western Washington city of Lynnwood.

Spokane County District Court is working to expand its e-mail program to include requests for deferred findings, said John Witter, the court’s operations supervisor.

Deferred findings are offered in some cases when the driver asks that the ticket not be reported to the Washington Department of Licensing as long as his or her driving record remains clean for a year.

It can be more expensive up front – there’s an administrative fee and often driving classes – but can save a driver on insurance costs, said Witter.

Spokane County is also working with the Washington State Patrol, state Supreme Court and Department of Licensing on an electronic citation system.

As for ticket mediation, one method of appeal may have changed, but the excuses are the same, said Shelley Hendrickson, a court clerk.

The most common according to Hendrickson: “I wasn’t paying attention.”

And then there’s the ever-popular: “I thought I was doing the right speed limit. I didn’t see a sign changing it.”

But there are still those who dare to be different.

“I had a lady who had her potential son-in-law in the back seat of the car,” said Hendrickson.

“She was trying to find out what his intentions were.”

No word on how that excuse panned out.

Oh, and if you end up on the bad side of the judge, you can pay your ticket online, too.