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New emphasis on reader-friendly tickets from police in Houston

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  • New emphasis on reader-friendly tickets from police in Houston

    July 24, 2005, 10:03PM

    With fine print gone, fine is the focus
    New emphasis on reader-friendly tickets from police in Houston may speed collections

    Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

    Houston's municipal court officials hope they can make the system more friendly and efficient by making the fine print bigger.

    Presiding Judge Berta Mejia says that new, easier-to-read tickets that the police began issuing this month are designed to make sure defendants understand all their options.

    The most evident options in the new format involve pleading guilty and paying up — allowing the defendant to avoid the hectic and crowded courthouse — and putting money into the city's pocket with a minimum of fuss and bother.

    In the six pages of information attached to the new citations, the first item is a list of "Your options to pay or resolve this ticket," and the first five of these are pay by mail, pay online, pay with credit card, pay with Western Union and pay in person.

    Then come instructions on how to request a driving safety course and deferred disposition, which require pleading guilty or no contest and paying a fee. At the bottom of the list is "Contesting your ticket."

    "I love the part where they have five or six paragraphs about ways to pay the fine, and there's a blip at the bottom about the right to hire an attorney and go to trial," said traffic court attorney Scott Markowitz, former president of the Municipal Justice Bar Association of Texas.

    Markowitz said, however, that he has no objections to the new tickets and hasn't heard of "any real noise" from colleagues.

    The new tickets duplicate much of the information that was squeezed into fine print on the old ones.

    "You really needed thick glasses to read it," Mejia said.

    "People used to complain, 'I didn't know I could take care of my business before I showed up here.' The judge would point out the information on the ticket, and people would say, 'Maybe I should have read it,'" Mejia said.

    The new tickets are larger, and they come with a map showing the Municipal Courts Building, 1400 Lubbock, and giving directions from nine freeways. There's a pre-addressed envelope, but the defendant must provide the stamp.

    Mejia said the new tickets will be an essential part of the planned "paperless" traffic case system. The system now handles parking tickets and is set to include traffic offenses and other municipal court cases in the fall.

    At that time, Mejia said, each ticket issued will be scanned into a computer, reducing the need to keep hard copies of the 1.2 million cases the courts handle each year. A bar code on the ticket will enable court computers to match it quickly with docket information about the case, she said.

    Source: Houston Chronicle
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