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Monday, March 11, 2013

Jefferson County Joins list Of Growing Kentucky Counties Opting For Their Own Alternative Traffic Driving Schools.

Jefferson County Attorney's Office profiting from alternative traffic school course

Officer Michelle Brown speaks with a motorist at a checkpoint on Taylor Boulevard in Louisville.
Officer Michelle Brown speaks with a motorist at a 
checkpoint on Taylor Boulevard in Louisville.

Traffic school vs. traffic school

Kentucky traffic school vs. Jefferson County attorney’s Drive Safe Louisville.

State classCounty attorney class
Hours to complete42
Cost$181.50, online; $149, in person*$150
Points assessed against licenseNoNo
ConvictionYesNo
Final examMust get 80 to pass, can take 3 timesNo final exam or minimum score
Courthouse trip required?Yes. Must apply in court or with clerkNo. Invited by letter from county attorney
Penalty for failing to completeLicense suspensionReinstatement of citation in court
FrequencyCan take once every yearCan take once every 2 years
Eligible offensesMoving violations, up to 25 mph overMoving violations, speeding up to 25 mph over
Ineligible: DUI, driving without insurance DUI, driving without insurance
*Includes $134 court costs.
Source: Jefferson County attorney’s office; PSI of Kentucky; Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

The next speeding ticket you pay may help cover the salaries of prosecutors in Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell’s office.
Desperate for revenue because of state budget cuts, O’Connell has joined about 50 county attorneys statewide in offering his own traffic school, which the legislature authorized last year.
If you’re cited in Jefferson County for any of 17 traffic violations — including speeding up to 25 mph over the speed limit, or running a red light — you can pay $150 to take a two-hour online class and never have to go to court. Complete the course and your citation is dismissed — it won’t appear on your driving record and no points will be assessed against your license.

A vendor that O’Connell hired to run the “Drive Safe Louisville” course, which was launched two weeks ago, calls it a “convenient, interactive way” to satisfy violations “in the comfort of home.”

But some lawyers and judges, including Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr., say they have concerns.
“I don’t see what the point of the law is other than to put money into the county attorney’s hands,” criminal defense lawyer Skip Daleure said.
Minton said he is bothered by “any type of system that raises money based on fees.” The program is a throwback to the days before court reform in Kentucky when the courts were funded by fines.
Defense lawyer Paul Gold, who practices in district court, sees both good and bad.
He says it is a “fantastic program for the accused” because it is cheaper than state traffic school online that costs $181. But he said he’s worried it will eliminate review by judges of alleged dangerous driving and that it creates a “pay-to-get-out-of-it situation.”

Another defense attorney, Benham Sims, said he finds it “offensive” that O’Connell maintains a policy of opposing expungement of prior criminal offenses for offenders who have so much as a traffic ticket since their conviction, “but now, if you pay him $150, he will make the charge go away.”
O’Connell, however, noted that the General Assembly last year enacted legislation specifically authorizing county attorneys to run their own traffic programs — and to collect a reasonable fee — although some had been doing so for years.

Drivers will be accepted into his office’s program on a case-by-case basis, he said, based on the offense charged, the driver’s history and other “relevant information,” O’Connell said.
He said there there is a “real education component” to the program, though he and other prosecutors concede the intent is to raise cash.

A search for funding

County attorneys have endured cuts in state funding as well as a dramatic decline in the fees they once reaped from collecting on bad checks — an amount that has dropped with the decline in the number of checks written, said Robert Neace, president of the Kentucky County Attorneys Association.

Although no statewide figures are available, Neace said check-collection fees have dropped 60 percent to 70 percent in Boone County since 2007.
“Times are tough,” said Neace, the Boone county attorney.
House Bill 480 doesn’t spell out the curriculum for county attorney traffic schools, meaning every county attorney can set his own requirements.

In Christian County, for example, drivers must write a term paper on safe driving, while in Henderson County they must complete two hours of community service. In Fayette, they must attend an hourlong class taught personally by County Attorney Larry Roberts.
The Jefferson County class is two hours and offered online only. It features a traffic safety quiz, slides and videos.

The $150 fee is divided three ways: O’Connell’s office gets $76, while $49 goes to the vendor, Lexington-based PSI of Kentucky, and $25 to the Administrative Office of the Courts, where it is put into a fund to hire more deputy clerks and enhance their pay.
O’Connell said he doesn’t know how much the program will generate because it is impossible to predict how many drivers will be eligible. Drivers can take the class only once every two years in O’Connell’s program.

But with 21,439 pre-payable citations issued in Jefferson County in 2011 for moving violations, according to the Jefferson circuit clerk’s office, there is a potential for O’Connell’s office and PSI to generate big bucks.

If the class were taken for every citation in 2011, it would have raised about $1.6 million for the county attorney’s office and about $1 million for the vendor.
Chief District Judge Ann Bailey Smith said that judges have not been briefed on the program and that she could not predict what the impact will be on the court’s docket. She said judges will have to approve the dismissal of charges.
Minton said it is impossible to predict the financial impact, although it may produce more money for the courts.

Participating drivers won’t pay court costs — $134 in Jefferson County. But the largest portion of that goes to the general fund, and only about $6 goes directly to the courts, compared with $25 of the county attorney traffic school fee.
Circuit clerks supported the traffic school law because of that, said Hardin Circuit Clerk Loretta Crady, the president of the state circuit clerks’ association.

Jefferson Circuit Clerk David Nicholson also said he supports O’Connell’s traffic program, as did Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad, who has ordered officers to set court dates six weeks from when they cite drivers to give them time to complete the program.
“If there is a program that will help our citizens and make our roads safe, I am supportive of that, regardless of who offers that program,” Nicholson said.

Choice of programs

O’Connell gave the no-bid contract to PSI, a fledgling company formed last year that operates programs for six county attorneys, over the more experienced adventfs.com, which operates online traffic schools for 40 counties and provides an array of other services, such as processing the collection of delinquent taxes.
O’Connell said he liked PSI’s “product” better and the fact that it is offering daylong programs in schools on the dangers of distracted driving.

Although PSI is a for-profit company, its “Drive Safe Kentucky” website has the look of an official government site.
It bears the seal of the state of Kentucky and is labeled “Kentucky Prosecutor’s (sic) Traffic Safety.”
Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts, who runs his own traffic diversion program without a vendor, says that is misleading because there is no statewide county attorney traffic program.
Attorney General Jack Conway’s office declined to comment specifically on the site, but spokeswoman Shelley Johnson said using a seal in a solicitation or advertisement that suggests it is endorsed by the commonwealth could violate the state Consumer Protection Act.
PSI chief executive Guy Huguelet said county attorneys are all “employees of the commonwealth. That is why the seal is there.”
However, he added: “If it is not appropriate, we will take it down. We sure wouldn’t want to do anything that is wrong.”

PSI was founded by Jake Patrick, 26, the son of Bill Patrick, who is executive director of the county attorneys’ association and a former chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party.
O’Connell said the elder Patrick never lobbied for his son’s company, and other county attorneys also said he has stayed out of the business.
“To his credit, I never had one single conversation with Bill,” O’Connell said.
Josh Hartlage, president of adventfs.com, which is based in Elizabethtown and provides technology services to 200 counties in the Midwest and southeastern United States, declined to comment on losing the contract to PSI.
“We wish Jefferson County the best of luck,” he said.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Avery Schlacter said...

Thanks for this I've been looking around for a California traffic school and I think it's also really cool that they have alternatives to this.

10:51 AM  

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