STANISLAUS COUNTY — Starting in July, the Stanislaus County Superior Court no longer will mail courtesy notices to remind drivers whove received traffic tickets that they have upcoming court dates. Officials say the change will save the court $40,000 a year.
A notice typically arrives in the mail 45 to 60 days before the court date cited on the ticket. Court officials estimate that about 57,000 notices are mailed out each year.
The two-page notice contains plenty of information concerning the traffic ticket, including bail, traffic school, court appearances and the consequences if the driver fails to resolve the case. But that same information is available on the court's website, said Stephanie Kennedy, the court's operations manager.
"A person will be able to locate his or her case number, bail amount and other useful information by going to the court's website and get that information much faster than waiting on a courtesy notice," she said.
Those who forget about their traffic tickets and fail to appear in court or pay the fines before deadline will have to pay an additional cost to resolve their cases.
The courtesy notices indicate that a civil assessment fee will be imposed or the bail amount could be increased. Civil procedures to collect unpaid fines or fees may include wage garnishment or intercepting an income tax refund.
Failure to pay or appear in court also can result in the suspension of a driver's license or a hold being placed on a vehicle registration.
Eliminating courtesy notices was a decision based on a series of budget cuts. The court has made other changes to trim its costs; the most recent was reducing the Friday business hours at the clerk's office. Starting last week, the clerk's office is open on Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon.
The Sacramento County Superior Court also has eliminated courtesy notices for traffic tickets, and several other courts are considering the move.
"It's another example of reducing the level of service to the public that we've been forced to do as a result of ongoing budget cuts for the past four consecutive years," said Mike Tozzi, the Stanislaus court's executive officer.
Court officials have been looking toward technology to create more efficiency and reduce costs. They automated one case file duplication process, reducing the workload for some staffers by half.
The Transcript Assembly Program software creates electronic copies of voluminous case files that are then sent to appellate courts. Before, clerks would have to copy, stamp, paginate and assemble each needed document from a case file, then ship them to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno.
A short supply of sign-language interpreters also created high costs from court delays and travel expenses paid to interpreters brought in from outside the area. So the Stanislaus court has started using videoconferencing equipment that allows the court to hire an available interpreter in another area without any delays.
All the local court pays is the interpreter's fees. The state Administrative Office of the Courts has estimated that $1.59 million will be saved statewide by reducing court delays, mileage expenses and travel costs.
Information concerning traffic tickets, including an upcoming court date, is available at the court's website: http://trafficfines.stanct.org:8080/LocateFines.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.