City Council at arms over dismissed tickets

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DIVERSION: A program for the disposition of a criminal charge without a criminal trial; sometimes called operation de nova, intervention or deferred prosecution. The disposition is conditional on the defendant's performing certain tasks or participating in a treatment program. If the conditions are successfully completed, the charge is dismissed. But if the accused does not meet his or her obligations, prosecution may be instituted. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/diversion

By Linda Ireland

For more than two months, city officials have locked horns with a Hodgenville man over parking on Lincoln Boulevard.

Greg Harry placed a “for sale” sign on his pickup truck and parked it in front of his house. Officers asked him to move it after receiving complaints from other residents. He complied, then changed his mind after conferring with County Attorney Dale Morris.

Eventually, he was charged with illegal parking and the truck was towed.

Morris declined to prosecute the case, citing his understanding of state law as it applied to parking on Lincoln Boulevard, which is a state highway.

Morris, Harry and Mayor Terry Cruse have each written letters to The LaRue County Herald News, stating their position on the case.

Cruse provided an update to City Council members during the Jan. 10 meeting.

Harry wrote the city, asking for reimbursement of the $105 towing fee. Cruse said he would not authorize the payment.

“If you want to give the money back, make a motion,” he told the council members.

The Council voted against the reimbursement but before the motion was made, Acting Chief Steve Johnson handed out a list of city police-issued citations that had been dismissed by Morris during the past two years. There were about 80 such cases beginning in 2008. Violations included disregarding traffic control light, improper parking, vehicle noisy and speeding.

Some of the charges were dismissed outright; others were diverted. In diversion, charges may be dismissed after a certain timeframe if the accused has complied with the court’s orders.

Council member Bonni Clark pointed out that the list did not include the number of violations that were prosecuted.

Other council members expressed disappointment in the outcomes.

“Speeding in a school zone, that’s pretty black and white,” Jim Phelps said about a 2008 case.

Two people were charged in 2010 with disregarding signals from an officer directing traffic. Both cases were diverted, then dismissed after six months.

Officer Dennis Wells, who was injured earlier this month as he directed traffic in front of Hodgenville Elementary School, wrote both citations. 

“One of our officers said, ‘what’s the use of us writing tickets if they’re getting dismissed,” Cruse said.

City Attorney Mary Gaines Locke told the Council members that if they agreed to pay Harry for the towing bill, they might be asked for reimbursement from the other dismissed cases.

Clark made the motion to reimburse Harry, saying she’d “like to put an end to it.” Woodie Handley concurred. The other four council members voted against the motion.

Morris, who was not present at the council meeting, told The LaRue County Herald News that he has “no idea” how many cases he has prosecuted for the city. He learned about “the list” after the council meeting.

Recommending diversion is “pretty standard for someone with a clean driving record,” he said. Six months is the norm but some diversion programs last 12 months.

In some cases, the charges were reinstated, Morris said.

Charges that may be dismissed include ones that can be easily disputed, such as proof of insurance or license, he said.

However, if the circumstances are “not easily explainable” it is his policy to “never do a dismissal” unless he talks first to the officer involved.