Thursday, October 8, 2009

Woodstock's new court - it works

Woodstock's new Administrative Adjudication Court met this morning, starting about 9:30AM in the City Council chambers. This court handles cases filed under the Woodstock City Code, even if there is a related State statute for the particular offense.

The court is presided over by Administrative Court Judge David G. Eterno. While the court is considerably more informal that McHenry County courts at the Government Center, Judge Eterno made it clear to today's defendants that it's serious business.

The first case heard involved storage of inoperable vehicles in a driveway in front of an attached garage on Woodstock's north side. I had noticed these vehicles over the past 3-4 months and wondered why they were never being moved. Because the driveway is full with two inoperable vehicles, a third vehicle is parked in the parkway, on the paved driveway, parallel to the street. The City cited the property owner in mid-September and the case was heard today.

In a negotiated plea, the owner agreed he was liable (guilty), and Judge Eterno set the fine at $100 plus court costs. Then he ordered the fine and court costs held in abeyance for 30 days, giving the owner time to comply with the City's ordinance.

Comment: Presumably the City was in contact with the owner prior to citing him. When he didn't comply, the City cited him for the violation. In the three weeks since the citation, he still didn't comply; I noticed the vehicles there last night at 9:00PM. Will he comply in the next 30 days? Maybe, like, on the 29th day or the day before he is due back in court on November 12? If laws in Woodstock are to have any teeth, the City should have asked the judge not to allow 30 more days of this nuisance.

The court then heard several truancy violations. Negotiated pleas of "liable" (guilty) resulted $50.00 fines plus court costs ($50.00 more). Several students appeared without parents. Judge Eterno queried students whether they had jobs; i.e., had their own earnings with which to pay the fines and court costs. He stressed to those who did not work that they were expected to pay the fines and not rely on gifts from parents.

Judge Eterno dealt respectfully and personally with each of the students. He stressed that they were "very lucky" to be in this court and not in the McHenry County Court system, because no record of their conviction follows them around to affect future job and school applications.

He also handled one possession-of-alcohol violation and one smoking violation.

These cases were all settled by Agreement and without a hearing. In most of the cases, the prosecution asked the judge to amend the original citation because of an error in the City Code Section Number. In each case the judge asked the defendant (student) if he had any objection to the City's request. I had to wonder if the judge would have thrown out each case, if the defendant had responded that he did object and if he had asked the judge to dismiss the case because of the City's error.

However, the young adults in the courtroom did not know to ask that question. And it wasn't the judge's responsibility to explain legal rights to a defendant who didn't understand the law or know his rights. The judge left the door wide open for each defendant to walk through it, but they didn't know to take that walk.

Then Judge Eterno heard the case of the City vs. Deer Pointe Homes over a tall weeds complaint on three lots at the Ponds of Bull Valley. The defense attorney, Patrick J. Smith of Cary, argued that the City had not complied with proper notice to the property owner prior to issuing the citation. He also questioned whether a prior notice had been addressed to the correct legal name of the corporate owner. After arguments by both sides, Attorney Smith asked for a directed verdict in his client's favor. Judge Eterno explained his opinion and then granted the directed verdict.

The argument hinged on whether the City had complied with its Code, because it had sent the Notice of Violation by First Class Mail, not by Registered Mail. The City offered the letter (the Notice of Violation) but testified it had been sent by First Class Mail. The City's attorney did not ask the city employee or the defendant whether either knew that the Notice had been received; the issue was how it was to be sent.

The City, according to the Code, was to send a Notice of Violation (NOV) by Registered Mail, personal delivery or "posting". Posting of a NOV was not discussed but apparently means by posting of the NOV on the property that is the subject of the violation.


Curious1 said...

Thanks for this, Gus...I don't always agree with you, but one has to respect your passion for getting info like this out to the community.

Gus said...

Curious1, thanks for your comment. I'm hoping that the community will begin to take more notice in how things work in Woodstock. Board and Commission meetings are open to the public, just as is this court.

BTW, the next date for this Court is the second Thursday in November, November 12, 9:30AM.

Anonymous said...

Let me go on record by stating that I was not the party involved with the "one possession-of-alcohol violation and one smoking violation." I have never been "caught" on either... DOH!