Chat with Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath

July 25, 2006

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath chats with readers about traffic and criminal matters.

Moderator:

Welcome, everyone, and thank you for joining our online chat with Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath.

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath:

Thank you. I look forward to hearing some questions about Municipal Court.

Moderator:

For the record, your moderator today is Dennis Anderson, managing editor of the Journal-World. I have the first question: As a Municipal Court Judge, what types of cases do you preside over?

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath:

I preside over traffic infractions and misdemeanors committed in the City of Lawrence, including DUIs, thefts, batteries, criminal damage to property, underage possession/consumption of alcohol, and about 100 other types of offenses, either in the Standard Traffic Ordinance or in the City Code of Lawrence.

parsimoniousjayhawker:

I have had three friends get traffic tickets and request a bench trial. Each of them were found guilty but yet you reduced their fines because they "took the time to come to court." Is it better to request a bench trial rather than pay the fines?

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath:

Each defendant has to make the decision as to whether a trial would be advisable, or whether he/she should just pay the ticket, or try to get something worked out with the prosecutor's office, such as getting a moving violation amended to a non-moving violation. Concerning your friends' cases, there have been times when after a trial I have suspended part of the fine if the defendant had to wait in court for a couple of hours before his trial started, due to a heavy docket.

badger:

Judge McGrath, thanks for taking the time to chat.

Do you ever just sit there and listen to the excuses people make, and just want to shake your head and say, "Son, what on earth made you think anyone would believe that, or think it was a reasonable explanation if they did?"

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath:

Sure.That happens almost every day, particularly when a defendant misses his court date and ends up seeing me by video from the jail. What I hear most of time is that the defendant lost his notice to appear which had the court date and that nobody contacted him.

Moderator:

A couple of readers have a question about conflicts of interest. How do you determine when you should excuse yourself from a case?

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath:

If there would be a clear appearance of impropriety, such as a relative who comes into court, I would recuse myself. Generally, I look at the relationship I may have had with the defendant and then make a determination whether there is a conflict or not. I just look at it on a case by case basis. After practicing law in Lawrence for about 20 years before becoming a judge I do know many people who come into court. If I decide not to recuse myself, then it would be because it does not appear to be improper and I'm supremely confident that the defendant and plaintiff will have due process from the Court.

geekin_topekan:

Your Honor,
Will the city ever adopt a policy of time served is equal to fines paid?
Other cities have a $60/day time served toward fines and costs.Does this make sense economically?

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath:

Jail time for not paying fines or completing any part of the sentence is determined by the judge, and not by city policy. An example would be a defendant who did not complete alcohol treatment by a certain date, or did not complete community service work to pay off fines by a date certain, then after a hearing if I determine that there was a willful refusal to comply with the sentence, then some, or all, of the jail time which had been suspended upon the condition that the defendant do those things could be imposed. I should point out that the Kansas Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have said that a defendant cannot be imprisoned for non-payment of fines without a determination made by the judge that the defendant had the financial means to pay and refused to do so, or that there was an alternative to paying fines, such as community service work.

geekin_topekan:

Your Honor,
Does the municipal court believe that jail/fines are able to make a difference in the city's homeless crisis?
In other words,does the law and your court have the ability to make the situation better or worse for the people if Lawrence?

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath:

No, I don't think jail/fines makes much difference with the homeless problem. We have had many homeless people who have done considerable jail time, usually for not completing the community service work on multiple cases or violating the terms of probation with another law violation and when they are released from jail they are still homeless, without job skills, and have the same friends who are in a similar situation. Many of them are seriously alcoholic, who have been through treatment programs and been on supervised probation in the past. The jail time dries them out from the alcohol during that period of incarceration, so in that respect it helps for awhile. Usually, with repeat offenders, jail time is imposed because other forms of a sentence did not work, but no, it's not a panacea for the homeless problem.

Moderator:

A reader asks how your background as a court-appointed crimial defense attorney affects your role today as a municipal judge.

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath:

It helps tremendously. I tried quite a few cases as a criminal defense lawyer, plus had hundreds of pleas and sentences, and hearings on cerain motions. Therefore, I appeared before many judges and learned from all of them. So, that experience helps me in court in any evidentiary hearing or trial. That being said, it does not make me defense oriented in my rulings. Instead, I listen to all of the evidence and try to apply the law to the facts. I go into court with a clean slate and have no agenda. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to do that.

Moderator:

Thank you, Your Honor, for taking time this afternoon to answer our readers' questions. I hope you will come back and do it again.

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath:

Thanks for having me. I could acutally go on all day about law and courts. I'll save that for my trial clerk during our court recess.

Comments

badger 9 years, 1 month ago

Come on, Marion, it's the traffic court and petty theft judge.

You want people to break out Constitutional law questions?

I sat with a friend one morning when she went to go in for a traffic ticket. There was a woman caught driving on an expired license and faked tags with no insurance or proof of ownership, and she insisted that it was an accident that she'd forgotten to renew her license or buy insurance, and that she got the fake tags from the DMV at Dillon's, where they had kept her proof of ownership. He listened patiently and told her that even if it was on accident, she still couldn't drive without a license, registration, and insurance.

Or the kid with the DUI who swore up and down that even though he'd been stopped shortly after pulling out of a bar parking lot, he'd been 'over at a friend's house' and the reason he was well above the legal limit for BAC was that he'd rinsed with Listerine because he had bad breath and didn't want to gross out the cop. The judge told him the BAC level was way too high for Listerine, but he appreciated his consideration for the officer.

My friend had been driving on a suspended license from another state (her suspension notice arrived about three days after she was stopped). She brought in the letter showing that her license had been suspended due to an unpaid ticket, the receipt to show she'd paid her ticket, and her reinstatement, and he waived the majority of her fine and gave her a less severe offense because she hadn't known about the suspension and she'd made the effort to get it cleared up. He seemed like a pretty decent guy, honestly. What's your beef with how the chat went?

It's not like there's a whole lot of burning questions and deep issues you can ask the judge who presides in the court for people who rack up five hundred bucks in parking tickets or grab a case of Pepsi from the Hy-Vee and run out the door.

He performs an essential part of the judicial process (the address and punishment of small-scale crimes), but not a terribly exciting or controversial one.

lawrencephilosopher 9 years, 1 month ago

We're gonna find out where you folks really stand.

Are there any queers in the theater tonight? Get them up against the wall! There's one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me, Get him up against the wall! That one looks Jewish! And that one's a coon! Who let all of this riff-raff into the room? There's one smoking a joint, And another with spots! If I had my way, I'd have all of you shot!

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