Local News

Wake Traffic Court May Be Spread Across County

Posted June 13, 2006 8:21 a.m. EDT

— On July 10, Wake County's Blue Ribbon Committee will finalize it's vision for county growth in the next quarter century. The goal is to grow efficiently, and planners are looking at everything from schools to courts.

One suggestion in the committee's current proposal is to study de-centralizing Wake County's traffic court in order to ease overcrowding. The idea is to create satellite traffic courts throughout the county where cases can be heard.

Right now the county only has satellite traffic courts in Wake Forest and Wendell that operate on opposite Fridays. For people who have to take off from work and drive across the county to have their case heard, this sounds like a win-win situation.

"I think that's a great idea," said defendant John Keefer. "It will mean a lot less travel for commuters that now need to come to Raleigh. It would save time. There's obviously a lot of traffic that comes in and out of here."

The overcrowding issue is real. On any given day, there can be as many as 1,600 cases in court.

But people who work in traffic court said decentralizing the system is not the answer, because they would need to staff satellite offices with judges, clerks and district attorneys.

"We are extremely busy already," said District Court Judge Jennifer Knox. "Decentralizing would not be in our best interest. It would cost a lot more money and time for everybody involved."

"There are a lot of attorneys that deal with at least 10 to 20 cases, if not more, a day, and it's hard enough to get those accomplished here in the Raleigh courthouse, much less if you go to any other satellite offices," said defense attorney Anna Smith.

Most people said more judges are the answer to the traffic court backlog. But until the General Assembly funds them, magistrates have been picking up the slack by handling cases at a kiosk outside the courtroom. Those cases never end up in front of the judge.

"We kind of call it, 'Let's-Make-A-Deal Court,'" said magistrate Dexter Williams. "We try to get people in and out as quick as we can so they don't have to sit in a courtroom all day."

The Blue Ribbon Committee will bring all of their recommendations to the Wake County Commissioners in July.