- Associated Press - Friday, September 23, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Topeka man in his 30s, who was issued a ticket for a traffic infraction, hadn’t gone to Topeka Municipal Court to resolve the case.

He missed the first court appearance in May, triggering a warrant for his arrest. He didn’t know how much the fines would be but figured he couldn’t pay all the costs even if he went to court, so he didn’t bother to go, Administrative Judge Jason E. Geier said this week, The Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/2cYRfWQ ).

Meanwhile, unknown to the motorist, his driver’s license was suspended by the state because he hadn’t dealt with the traffic ticket.

When Geier went to a “Meet the Judge” event, he talked to the motorist, who made an appointment with Geier to resolve the runaway ticket. When the motorist made his appointment with the judge, Geier canceled the bench warrant for failing to appear in court in May, then set up a monthly schedule for the man to pay the fine and other costs.

“He was happy as a clam,” Geier said.

Geier has spoken about court at 10 Meet the Judge events, held at community centers, the Topeka Housing Authority and a Neighborhood Improvement Association gathering.

“Clean Slate,” an education campaign so motorists can deal with traffic arrest warrants in the city of Topeka and related unresolved traffic tickets, will help people like the motorist the judge met, he said.

The first Clean Slate event will be Oct. 14, when 75 motorists wanted on arrest warrants can come to Municipal Court to talk to a judge, to perhaps get the warrant canceled and to resolve traffic cases on the books. A defendant also can get a brief consultation with defense attorneys who have volunteered.

At the same time, a person can get a Municipal Court conviction expunged - meaning it would be erased - if he or she meets the criteria, Geier said.

“We’re not giving expungements to people if they don’t deserve it,” the judge said.

Clean Slate will have a total of 10 other benefits besides correcting unresolved court cases. They include:

- A list of employers who will hire people who have misdemeanor convictions.

- Guidance on how to earn a General Education Development (GED) certificate or high school diploma.

- Help getting basic health care.

- Possible guidance on how to get a driver’s license re-instated.

“We’re taking (Clean Slate) a step further,” Geier said.

Topeka has about 3,000 arrests warrants tied to motorists who failed to show up in court to resolve traffic citations.

Sometimes a motorist will flee police due to a warrant, which develops into a chase, and that becomes a public safety issue, the judge said.

“I don’t want people put in harm’s way,” Geier said. “Let’s clean up some of this stuff.”

A traffic ticket with a fine that snowballs into a suspended driver’s license and an arrest warrant if the ticket isn’t dealt with “is a cycle that doesn’t need to happen,” Geier said.

Geier made it clear Clean Slate won’t be a “warrants roundup,” a ruse to lure motorists into mass arrests of those wanted on warrant.

At the same time, the judge made it clear the court isn’t wiping out fines and isn’t erasing mandatory jail sentences, including those for drunk driving and driving on suspended driver’s licenses.

“People are still going to be responsible for their fines,” Geier said, but payment plans can be set up, and arrangements can be made so defendants can serve jail sentences on weekends and not lose their jobs.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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