Monday, April 13, 2009

Drive's on for trials

Don't count on dodging your $30 parking ticket fine by taking it to trial anymore.
And for those who want their day in court, the wait may be over.
It was the case, as recently as last summer, that most $30 parking tickets never saw the inside of a courtroom because of a massive backlog of tickets and limited resources.
This year, though, the city is spending $2.3 million to build six new courtrooms -- the first of which may be completed by the end of this month. Two new justices of the peace, who serve as judges for parking tickets and other minor offences, were also appointed to Toronto at the end of February.
The parking ticket backlog was City Hall's dirty little secret.
In 2006 and 2007, Torontonians requested trials for 250,000 tickets but only 4,300 were ever scheduled.
In 2008 alone, 220,000 tickets were asked to go to trial, and 27,000 have already been scheduled, with more to come, said Barry Randell, director of the city's court services.
The requests for trials rose, he said, once the media began publicizing the lack of resources.
"The statistics are, when the media reported that there was a backlog in the court system, the trial rate went up," he told the Sun. "People were asking for trials more frequently ... at one point, one in every 15 parking tickets was being requested for trial, which is pretty high. Normally, it's somewhere around 4% to 5%.
"We said, 'realistically, we need to open up some more courtrooms.' "
The six new courtrooms, which can each process 30 to 40 minor traffic tickets four times a day, could add about 180,000 trials a year.
And that will "go a long way," Randell added, to scheduling more trials, about 600,000 are already heard annually in the city's 24 currently operating courtrooms.
But, the city's court services still triages -- or prioritizes -- the cases that go to trial. After all, the courtrooms aren't just for parking tickets.
"It runs the gamut from the $30 parking tickets through to fatalities under Occupational Health and Safety legislation," Randell said.
"Obviously more serious cases require more court time ...We still operate under that."
Randell acknowledges the new courtrooms and the additional justices of the peace likely won't be enough to completely cover the parking ticket problem, but it's a start.
The city's court services is also hopeful the province's attorney general will streamline the system and take some minor infractions out of the court system -- what Randell called an onerous process for tickets -- entirely.
He said the province is looking at that now.

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