Jefferson City Municipal Court assessing switch to days

In this April 2012 file photo, Judge Cotton Walker presides over Jefferson City Municipal Court. Traditionally holding sessions on Wednesday nights, the court began experimenting with conducting its sessions during the daytime at the start of summer 2013.

In this April 2012 file photo, Judge Cotton Walker presides over Jefferson City Municipal Court. Traditionally holding sessions on Wednesday nights, the court began experimenting with conducting its sessions during the daytime at the start of summer 2013. Photo by News Tribune.

It’s been two months since the Jefferson City Municipal Court switched its weekly night proceedings to days, and officials say it’s likely the switch will become permanent.

In early June, the municipal court switched its typical Wednesday night proceedings to take place during the day, in part to help cut down on overtime costs.

Judge Cotton Walker said the court staff currently is assessing how the trial switch has gone so far and making the decision on whether they want to continue with daytime proceedings into the new fiscal year. Walker said though they have yet to make the final decision, the inclination is to keep the daytime proceedings moving forward.

“We haven’t made the final decision on whether to roll it past Oct. 31, but we intend to soon,” Walker said. “The feedback I’m getting from all sources ... is that it’s working just fine and, frankly, more prefer it. It’s gone smoothly. No problems.”

City attorney Drew Hilpert, who also acts as court administrator, said the switch has had a small but positive financial impact because the city is able to save on overtime costs it would incur when employees worked nights. Generally, Hilpert said he believes the switch will save probably $3,000 to $4,000 in overtime costs throughout the year, but it’s hard to be sure.

He noted that in 2012 the court budgeted $9,000 for overtime costs and year-to-date for this fiscal year, the court has spent only about $2,000 on overtime.

Hilpert said the impact on City Hall and city staff has been minimal, thanks to efforts by Walker and the city’s hired security staff.

“The judge has kind of clamped down on people coming in and out of the courtroom, and the security guards have been doing a great job,” Hilpert said. “People who have come to court have behaved ... it’s a more serious atmosphere than it was on Wednesday nights.”

Before the switch, city officials expressed some concern about the number of people daytime proceedings would bring into City Hall during normal business hours.

City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said those appearing for court are generally behaving better and not disrupting city operations.

“It’s not nearly as bad as what we thought it was going to be,” Nickolaus said. “I would say it’s working pretty good.”

Nickolaus said there are more eyes on everything now, which may be what has led people to improve their behavior from what typically was seen Wednesday nights.

Walker also has noticed changes in the behavior of those who attend court, noting the daytime hours may lead people to take the court more seriously than before.

“It impresses upon them that it’s just like any other court,” Walker said. “It seems a little more serious to them. They’re taking it a little more seriously.”

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