Jul 20, 2016

Cody shifting court costs to county; county looks to shift them back

To cut costs, the city of Cody has decided it will only prosecute the most minor offenses committed inside city limits and leave the rest to the Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Cody leaders expect to save around $24,000 a year by shuffling more serious cases out of its municipal court and into Circuit Court — effectively shifting the costs of prosecuting and punishing those offenses to the state of Wyoming and Park County.

However, Park County commissioners are now looking for a way to shift some of those costs back to the city of Cody.
Recent changes to the city of Cody's ordinances mean the city will no longer have to pay to house inmates at the county jail. Courtesy photo

Until the recent changes, Cody’s ordinances allowed its city attorney to seek up to six months of jail time for a handful of misdemeanor offenses (such as drunk driving and drug possession) in the city's municipal court.

However, each time the government prosecutes an offense with a potential for jail time, the defendant is entitled to a defense attorney. If they can’t afford one, the government — in this case, the city — has to pay for that attorney. Further, if a person receives jail time in a Cody municipal court proceeding, the city must pay the county $30 per day to hold them in the detention center.

Cody City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke said Municipal Court Judge Ed Webster typically orders defendants to repay the city for its costs, but “unfortunately, a lot of times, those are very difficult to collect.”

“A lot of the defendants who are sentenced to those penalties ... are frequently unemployed, or in many cases, they take years to pay back these fines at $50 a month or $100 a month,” Kolpitcke said at June council meeting.

The city says around $286,000 of attorney costs and jail fees have gone unpaid since 2002.
Cody’s City Council decided to stop accruing those costs on July 5 by specifying that — from now on — the maximum penalty for any violation of city code is a $750 fine. Jail time is no longer a possibility.

Commissioners say they may start charging the city to use the Circuit Courtroom.
Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said the change was something city leaders had been considering for years.

Most of the offenses laid out in city ordinance also are crimes under state law, so if a Cody police officer believes that a person should face jail time, they now just need to cite them into Circuit Court, Kolpitcke said.

The difference is that offenses in Circuit Court will be prosecuted by the county attorney’s office (rather than the Cody city attorney), indigent defendants will have their attorneys paid for by the state (rather than the city), incarcerated defendants will be brought to and from court by the Park County Sheriff’s Office (rather than city police) and the county will absorb the full cost of housing any of the defendants in jail.

“The idea is that eventually you’ll see those costs at least come to an end, and maybe the city will see some equalization in the revenues versus the costs in municipal court,” Kolpitcke told the Cody council last month.

Park County commissioners, however, didn’t appreciate the work and costs being shifted to the county.

“I don’t want to be a hard-ass here, but they’re kind of playing games with us, it seems,” said Commission Chairman Tim French.

The county has allowed the city of Cody to freely use the courthouse’s Circuit Courtroom for its municipal court, and commissioners say they may start charging the city.

“If they’re going to stop doing their part and make us start doing it, there might be a need for a charge for the space — or they can hold it (municipal court) down at City Hall,” Commission Chairman Tim French said at a late June budget meeting, adding, “I don’t want to be a hard-ass here, but they’re kind of playing games with us, it seems.”

“Especially when they’ve transferred the legal work to our staff,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf, referring to the County Attorney’s Office.

Commissioner Joe Tilden said he agreed with the idea of charging Cody whatever the added cost is to Park County.

The city of Powell made the same change to its ordinances many years ago. The county allows the city of Powell to hold its municipal court at the Circuit Courtroom in Powell at no cost.

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