According to Municipal Court Judge Jonathan Wehrmeister, being more transparent and accessible will inspire more confidence in the local judicial system.
The Mission Municipal Court will begin implementing a walk-in docket on Monday, Oct. 1. The walk-in docket will be available for defendants Mon. through Sat. from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Wehrmeister made the announcement during the citizens participation in this week’s city council meeting. He said the judges of the court have been working on making these hours available for a few months.
“The purpose of a walk-in docket is to enhance the administration of justice by allowing defendants an option where they have some measure of control as to how and when they resolve their cases,” Wehrmeister said.
A walk-in docket will give a person who is scheduled for a different time, or not scheduled at all, more options to appear at court on a date that works better for them.
“The defendants will have an opportunity to speak to a judge,” Wehrmeister said. “They’ll be able to have plea options explained to them, enter a plea, request a payment plan and seek alternate methods of payment such as community service or an indigency determination.”
“It should allow them easier access to justice,” Wehrmeister added.
He also stated that defendants will not be allowed to discuss the merits of the case regarding guilt or innocence with the judge, just speak on their options and what they mean for them. Wehrmeister envisioned three types of individuals who would come before the court in a walk-in setting.
An individual may come in during designated walk-in hours in order to speak to a judge and have the plea options (guilty, not guilty or no contest) explained more clearly. This someone may also be coming into court in order to seek a deferral to keep a ticket off their record or request community service – which can potentially be handled at that time without the necessity of a further hearing.
Another person may choose to plead not guilty, and at that point the judge will not be able to discuss the merits of the case. A prosecutor and witnesses will be called, and theoretically the judge may be able to check their calendar and hand people notice of a trial date in person rather than via mail.
The third individual would be someone who was issued a ticket, but their appearance date does not work with their schedule. This person can come in during walk-in docket hours any time before the date listed and speak to a judge about their options at their convenience.
“Sometimes people are here for a short period of time, visiting from Mexico, or Winter Texans,” Wehrmeister said. “They’ve said, ‘Hey, we have to go back to where we’re from next week, and my appearance date is not until after that.’ This way, we should be able to accomodate them.”
Wehrmeister mentioned some other cities, such as Amarillo, Midland, Woodway and Lancaster, that have implemented a formal posting of a walk-in docket in their municipal courts. As far as Wehrmeister knows, Mission will be the first local municipal court to have formal hours for a walk-in docket in the Valley.
“We’re hoping to make it much more accessible for the public to have access to the judges, resolve their matters and get justice for their cases in a much more prompt manner,” Wehrmeister said.
The judge said the city council wanted municipal judges to be more available to the residents in Mission.
“We wanted to make it basically more convenient to take care of their tickets,” Wehrmeister said. “This way they can come in, see a judge right then and there, and that way they don’t have to be set for a future date.”
He said that while citizens may sometimes still be set for a future date, you’ll still be able to have some of your questions answered during the walk-in docket. The municipal court feels this will give people more options and be an effective addition to the system.
“Sometimes people panic, they don’t know or they get misinformation,” Wehrmeister said. “They may have to work, and they don’t think they can call the court, so this gives them the opportunity to come in at a different time. We’re hoping this will make people more aware.”
“The court is here to serve the community,” Wehrmeister said. “People need to be able to have access to the justice system when it’s convenient for them, make it more efficient and streamline the system to process the cases.”