Dick Steinberg has resided in the city of Brookfield for 35 years. He served 34 years as municipal judge and has been an attorney for 50 years. He enjoys tennis, golf, biking and creative writing, which includes legal issues, sports, government and people.
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Effective June 10, 2009 the Legislature created a new law for payment of traffic fines.
2009 Wisconsin Act 17, Payment Plans in Traffic Cases, requires that in traffic forfeiture cases, an offender who is unable to pay a forfeiture because of poverty must be offered the opportunity to arrange an installment payment plan before the offender's driver's license can be suspended.
The practical result is that persons with traffic violations who pay their fines timely without a court appearance may not have that opportunity. Because the prior language provided for a hearing to determine ability to pay based on indigency guidelines and the ability to pay was determined by the judge, the new criteria of poverty is somewhat determined by law.
This new law was sponsored by a certain Milwaukee faction to reduce suspensions of drivers licenses for people who do not pay fines based on a finding of guilty and judgment having been entered.
The humanitarian purpose of this new law is praise worthy but shifting the burden of the municipality to collect fines will result in more and more offenders claiming poverty and creating a new tier of administration to notify, and locate, these people who may be in all parts of the state and communicate the installment plan offer to them.
In my experience a certain percentage of offenders on installment plans do not comply and then the burden again is on the municipality.
The prior law worked very well and a license suspension for failure to pay a fine was equal justice for all.
At a meeting with the Mayor I presented the new pending law to him and he told me it would never pass.
Please understand that over my objection leaders of state municipal judges only provided this and other new laws to the municipal judges, some judicial administrators and some legislators, and over my prompting did not notify the municipalities of these laws and their ultimate effect on city government.
As Municipal Judge during my tenure installment payments were accepted, indigency hearings were conducted and all persons were treated equally. Poverty does not take into account any hidden or diverted assets that a person has control over.
Under the new law the court shall notify the defendant personally in court or in writing that defendant has the right to notify the court that he/she is unable to pay because of legal poverty.