Eagle debates judge’s discretionary fines practice
EAGLE — When someone runs afoul of the municipal rules in Eagle, chances are that indiscretion will end up helping out a needy kid or senior citizen in the community.
That’s the way things have worked since Eagle Municipal Judge Buck Allen took over the bench back in 1999 and that’s the way that the Eagle Town Board wants things to continue. However, members are a bit concerned that maybe town government needs to tweak its municipal code to make sure Allen has written rules to support his actions.
The issue was presented to the board last month when municipal court clerk Erin Ivie noted that there is currently $665.04 in the find fund.
“We need to get to the foundation of how did it (the fine money and the fine practice) get there,”said Eagle Police Chief Joe Staufer. Staufer suggested that town staff should develop an ordinance for the town board to consider that would to codify Allen’s fines practice.
When contacted this week, Judge Allen said he wouldn’t object to Eagle proceeding with an ordinance. However he also noted that as municipal judge he has the authority to levy the fines without town action and that’s exactly what he does in the other courts he oversees including Vail, Avon and Breckenridge.
“Every other municipality where I do this there is no code for it, it’s just done,” said Allen.
Allen noted many years ago, he approached the then-town board to see if members would support a fine program. Members agreed with the idea.
“I have been operating under that approval since,” he said. “It really doesn’t generate that much money and the money it does generate goes to needy kids. I tell people it’s not for the judge’s lunch fund.”
Small fines add up
Allen has a long-standing practice of adding small community fines — usually in the $3 to $10 range — when defendants plead guilty or are found guilty in municipal court. Depending on the crime involved, Colorado Revised Statute determines punishment and Allen, just as any other judge, has the authority to determine the amount of a fine or term of a jail sentence within the parameters of the law. Then he adds the small community restitution fine to the total amount due.
Where does the money go? Initially it is held in a specific town court fund and then when the holiday season comes around, Allen contacts local schools to find out if there are any children who regularly arrive for the day without a warm jacket. School personnel observe and report back and Allen then allocates money to the various buildings so that kids who need a winter coat receive one as a Christmas present.
“I just think that is more important than buying them a toy,” he said.
Likewise, Allen uses community contacts to find out if there are any senior citizens who are experiencing difficulty making ends meet. If individuals are identified, they are awarded a grocery store gift card courtesy of the municipal court.
“Most people, when I say their fine includes $10 for needy kids, they ask if they can pay $25. I tell them yes, but the fine is just $10,” said Allen
Protecting the practice
While town board members generally agreed there was a need to formalize Allen’s practice, they also applauded his program.
“I really like the idea of making a charitable contribution in recognition of their wrongdoing,” said Eagle Town Board member Andy Jessen.
“I hate surcharges and I hate fees, but allocation of a portion of a fine is a great way to solve this issue,” offered Town Board member Matt Solomon.
“Charitable contributions are very much a part of my heart,” said Chief Staufer. He said by codifying the practice, Eagle could make sure it can continue.
As for his part, Judge Allen said he was a bit surprised to hear about Eagle’s concerns, but said he would be happy to personally talk over the issue with the town board.
“With his years of experience on the bench, I trust Judge Allen’s judgment and I really, especially respect his caring approach to our youth and families,” said Eagle Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Brubeck. “The only reason we would want to codify something is to we can make sure the good ideas in our community can continue.”
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