Court mulls ways to save

Published 6:33pm Monday, August 18, 2014

With cities and counties in the midst of budgeting, Selma’s Municipal Court is considering two different measures that could cut costs and bring the city’s justice system into the digital age.

The first measure, proposed Friday to the city council’s public safety committee, would allow magistrates and municipal judges to communicate with inmates by using a system of cameras and TV monitors.

Municipal Judge Prince Chestnut proposed the idea in response to a request for the court to purchase a car, which Chestnut said would have been needed to travel from the city’s public safety building to the county jail

“We’ve got a big, nice flatscreen, so, if we can get something set up at the jail, we can just see them over the television,” Chestnut said. “With that, we wouldn’t have a transportation cost.”

Until the video communication system is set up, Chestnut said the court could reimburse its employees for mileage driven at the city’s rate — $0.55 per mile.

Ward 2 councilwoman Susan Keith, who chairs the public safety committee, said she was in favor of the idea and would propose it to the entire council.

“With that idea, it sounds like there would be no need to travel,” Keith said.

The committee also addressed an overage in the amount budgeted to pay defense lawyers.

Currently, Chestnut said defendants who are facing jail time are appointed a lawyer at a rate of $70 per hour, which is charged to the City of Selma.

Chestnut said the court had exceeded it’s budget by $15,000 and needed a $20,000 transfer from the municipal court fund to cover the remaining portion of the city’s 2014 fiscal year. The  transfer must be approved by the city council.

To prevent any future overages, the committee discussed a way to pay attorneys on a monthly contract, rather than per hour.

An initial figure would be $300 per session, Chestnut said. On average, municipal court holds six sessions per month, he said.

“It would be sort of like a lottery for everybody who is interested,” he said. “This month it would be one attorney and the next month a different person would rotate, like a revolving public defender.”

Municipal Judge Joe Hagood said the rotation would also help young attorneys gain experience.

If approved by the Selma City Council, the change wouldn’t take place until Oct. 1, which is the start of the city’s 2015 fiscal year.

For conflicts of interest, where multiple people were involved in the same incident or an attorney knows a defendant, Chestnut said the court could bring in another attorney for that particular case.

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