More Than Just Traffic Court.
By Paul C. Farr, Judge.
“So you’re a justice of the peace?” someone asks. “No, they were done away with in 1989. I’m a justice court judge,” I respond. “What is that, like a traffic judge?” I then respond that part of my duties do involve presiding over traffic cases. The conversation then typically spirals out of control with a discussion about a prior traffic ticket.
This is a common conversation I have had with members of the public, but also with members of the bar. Many people are unfamiliar with the role of a justice court judge. This is understandable. Most cases in justice court are not exciting enough to make the news or be the subject of a television show. Many members of the bar do not practice in justice court. For many people their only interaction with a justice court may be a traffic violation. The purpose of this article is to provide a glimpse into the important, even if not so glamorous, work of a justice court judge.
Yes, justice court judges do preside over traffic cases. In fact, in fiscal year 2018, Utah’s eighty-two justice court judges presided over a total of 342,854 traffic related cases. The Salt Lake City Justice Court handled the most traffic cases, with 45,794, while the Spring City Justice Court had the fewest, with just seventeen. More traffic cases are filed in the justice courts, by far, than any other type of case. If you talk to a justice court clerk, many would tell you that a large amount of their time is spent dealing with traffic cases. This includes answering phone calls, scheduling court dates, managing court files, processing payments, and many other duties.
The same is not necessarily true of a justice court judge. Most traffic cases get resolved before coming to court. Many people choose to pay the ticket rather than schedule a court hearing. For me, less of my time is spent on traffic cases than my other duties. For example, the Sandy City Justice Court, where I serve, handles the second largest number of traffic cases in the state with 19,001 last year. Yet, I would estimate that only maybe 25% of my time as a judge is spent dealing with traffic cases. The majority of my time is spent dealing with the much smaller number of criminal cases and other duties as described below. However, just...