Our Opinion: Municipal court trial deserves fair hearing

Jefferson City Municipal Court is conducting a trial.

Beginning Wednesday, municipal court sessions will be held during the day rather than in the evening.

Specifically, arraignments will begin at 8:30 a.m.; the payment, or show cause, docket will start at 10:30 a.m.; and the trial docket will begin at 1:30 p.m.

The switch was prompted to save money.

Municipal Judge Cotton Walker acknowledged the anticipated savings, in part from a reduction of police overtime, sparked the trial run, which will be evaluated in August.

The assessment is expected to focus on the amount of the benefit, in money saved, in comparison to the drawbacks.

One potential drawback is inconvenience.

Weekly municipal court sessions are held in the City Council chambers. They routinely draw sizable crowds, and people typically stand along the walls or gather in hallways.

The overflow poses no problem in the evenings, when offices are closed, but may prove problematic for city staff and the public during the day.

“I’m concerned about the impact on our ability to maintain services,” said City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus. “I am trying to run offices here and with that volume of people it could get disruptive, (but) I think we’ve got plans in place to handle it.”

Another potential problem focuses on court security.

Daytime municipal court will lose the services of a bailiff who also is employed by the Cole County court system during the day.

Nickolaus, however, cited the continued police presence and referenced “more eyes kind of watching things.” He added: “We’ll just have to adjust.”

We believe this trial period is worth a try.

City officials appear to have anticipated possible problems and have indicated a willingness to make necessary adjustments.

A fair evaluation of the trial period will establish whether the change deserves to be reversed or become permanent.

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