Appeals of traffic ticket disputes will not be heard in Circuit Court after June 30

Sarasota city attorney says a Special Magistrate will take over the responsibility for City of Sarasota cases

The Silvertooth Judicial Center is located on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota. File photo

As of July 1, the 12th Judicial Circuit Court no longer will have a civil traffic infraction hearing officer handling appeals of municipal parking ticket disputes, Chief Judge Charles E. Williams notified city leaders throughout Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties in a May 9 letter.

That decision, Williams indicated, is based on financial constraints. “Back in July 2004,” he pointed out, “the funding of all civil traffic hearing officers was transferred from the counties to the State of Florida. We have been presiding over your parking ticket and ordinance violation disputes using state resources with no revenue at all from these cases …” Williams stressed, “Our state-funded civil traffic infraction hearing officer has been gratuitously … hearing these cases for years now, but that practice will end on June 30, 2017.”

His letter, he noted, gave municipal leaders “two months to make alternate arrangements ….”

Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier told the City Commission during its regular meeting on May 15 that the change will mean higher costs for the city, but he expects them to be minimal.

Chief Judge Charles E. Williams. Photo from the 12th Judicial Circuit Court website

The commission also will need to amend the appropriate ordinance to allow a Special Magistrate to handle all parking ticket disputes after June 30, Fournier added.

“So there will be budget implications?” Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked.

“To some extent,” Fournier replied. “[The amount] will be difficult to gauge. … I just don’t have a good handle on how many of [these appeals] there are,” he told her, though he said he feels the number is small. “So, yes, there will be some extra hours [for the Special Magistrate].”

Fournier added that he would work on the revised ordinance so the board would have time to approve it before the end of June.

Upon his first reading of it, Fournier said, Williams’ letter “caused a little bit of consternation” because of concern about the scope of the city’s extra responsibilities. “But after investigation, what we’ve learned [is] that it was intended to apply to parking fines only.”

The current process, Fournier explained, calls for a person who wants to dispute a parking ticket to appeal to the city’s Parking Division. If the Parking Division decision is to uphold the ticket, Fournier continued, then the person can appeal that to the 12th Judicial Circuit Court hearing officer. People are “no longer going to be able to do that” after June 30, he pointed out.

The Special Magistrate who handles other city matters already has said he is willing to take on the parking ticket disputes, Fournier added.

Since Oct. 19, 2016, Sarasota County civil traffic infractions have been heard in both North and South county locations, according to an administrative order that went into effect that year.

That order notes, “All civil traffic infraction hearing officers are independent contractors and enter into professional services agreements with the court concerning the duties and obligations of the civil traffic infraction hearing officer, and are appointed yearly in the Judicial Assignments Administrative Order.”

On Oct. 26, 1999, the Florida Supreme Court granted approval of the establishment of a civil traffic infraction hearing officer program in Sarasota County, according to a letter Williams included in the materials he sent to municipal letters on May 9.