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Board tables proposal to increase judicial discretion

Following a lengthy legal discussion Monday evening, trustees tabled a proposal presented by Municipal Judge Peter Tharp to formally extend his power to amend citations prior to a pretrial hearing. Judge Tharp attempted to make the case that by increasing his discretion to amend specific types of citations prior to a pretrial hearing, he could bypass any involvement by the village attorney and save the village considerable expense. He pointed out that in most traffic citations, defendants are more concerned about the points accompanying the violation than the fine and are generally motivated to accept an amended citation for an equivalent fine minus the points.

Bakke Norman Attorney Deanne Koll, recently retained as Robert’s Village Counsel, recognized the economic merit in Tharp’s proposal and felt there could be ways for she and Tharp to work together to save some of those costs going forward, but opposed a sweeping change to the existing judicial process.

“When you are a defendant and you come before a judge, you are expecting somebody to be unbiased and somebody to look at only the evidence. If you are then negotiating with the judge at an initial appearance or any other time, that’s not appropriate, that’s not the way the judicial system is supposed to work. It’s meant to be the defendant and the prosecution. The judge is here to decide justice,” said Koll.

Trustees agreed to revisit Tharp’s proposal in six months at the conclusion of Bakke Norman’s probationary period.

Trustees must have felt like they passed the bar after devoting another lengthy discussion to legal matters pertaining to the Village’s Municipal Justiciary.

The second issue to come before the trustees concerned a $600 invoice payable to Hudson Municipal Judge Ben Wopat for time he spent ruling on motions and researching and familiarizing himself with a complicated case assigned to him when it was determined that Robert’s Municipal Judge, Peter Tharp, was not qualified to adjudicate the case.

The case, concerning several citations related to possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia issued to a single defendant, started making its way through the court back in 2015 while Judge Peter Close was the sitting municipal judge in Roberts. After prolonged legal wrangling and Peter Tharp’s election to the Roberts Municipal Judgeship replacing Close, a 10-day window to move the case to the circuit court for a jury trial at the county level was missed by defense. In the meantime, judicial officials decided Judge Tharp was not experienced enough to preside over the case and assigned the case to North Hudson Municipal Judge Ben Wopat. A day before Wopat was to hear the case, an agreement reached between the attorneys dismissed the original citations and saw Village Attorney Andrew Nelson file new citations, reopening the 10-day window for the defense to move the case to the circuit court for a trial by jury, a proceeding beyond the resources at the municipal level.

At issue is the $600 Judge Wopat charged the Village for his time spent preparing for the trial which never happened. Apparently he could have charged as much as $3,400 for his preparation but even at the greatly discounted rate it caught the village by surprise and by many accounts is at odds with the customary, though informal, understanding between judges to not charge for such work.

“The reason why we never got a bill like this before is I had agreements with the judges around, and most of them were just local agreements, some were just a nod of the head, a gentlemen’s agreement, that if I were to send a case to them, they would just handle it and not worry about charging, and I would handle their cases and not worry about charging,” explained Close.

Trustees tabled their decision until further investigating how other surrounding municipalities have dealt with similar circumstances.

Other business

4 Trustees approved an updated Sex Offender Ordinance. The revised ordinance defines institutions by purpose rather than by listing actual names and addresses. According to Police Chief Aaron McWilliams, the revised ordinance gives his department more flexibility in interpreting and enforcing the law and it brings local law into alignment with state statutes. It also prevents the village from having to update the ordinance every time an institution needed to be added or deleted from the list.

4 Trustees approved spring clean-up days to run from April 15 - May 6, with Saturday, April 15, and Saturday, April 29, being the weekend drop-off days.