Wakarusa arrestees have their day in court

Busy docket generates $11K in fines, fees

The local courts took on the feel of a trading pit Friday, as dozens of people busted at the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival wheeled and dealed with prosecutors to get their cases resolved.

Charged with a misdemeanor? For a $200 fine and $117 in court costs, you could plead guilty or no contest and walk away with no jail time or probation.

For an additional $100, you could get prosecutors to drop the charge by granting a diversion. That offer was good only for those with no criminal history and able to pay the entire sum on the spot.

Roughly 70 people were scheduled to appear at Friday’s District Court docket, which was set up especially for those arrested at Wakarusa. The smell of patchouli oil floated through the hallways. Signs directed defendants to one of two courtrooms based on their last names.

“Our objective is just to handle the volume,” Dist. Atty. Charles Branson said.

Branson gave the following figures:

¢ Thirty-one people had their cases resolved – almost all of them through a diversion, but a few through pleas.

Dist. Atty. Charles Branson explains a woman's options for dealing with a minor in possession of alcohol charge. About 70 cases stemming from arrests at the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival were presented Friday in Douglas County District Court.

One man, for example, was charged with possession of marijuana, LSD and drug paraphernalia – all misdemeanors – as well as a felony drug-tax violation. Prosecutors agreed to drop the felony charge if he pleaded no contest to the three misdemeanors. He agreed and was ordered to pay $717 total.

¢ Eleven people failed to appear and will have warrants issued for their arrest.

¢ Twelve people said they planned to contest the charges and had their cases continued.

¢About 15 people appeared but were told they weren’t going to be charged Friday. Branson said most of those cases were felony drug cases in which prosecutors were awaiting lab tests.

“We had to send the mushrooms and LSD to the lab – the ecstasy and all that,” he said.

Judge Robert Fairchild heard cases in one courtroom; attorney Angela Stoller, acting as a judge pro tem, heard cases in another.

Jonathan Tunney, 18, Chicago, was charged with possession of marijuana after being caught in a surprise Kansas Highway Patrol check lane near the festival.

He drove from Chicago to Lawrence on Thursday to take care of his case. He left the courthouse Friday with diversion papers rolled up in his hand and $417 less in his pocket.

“I’m happy it turned out like this, but I think it was bogus in general,” he said.

Branson estimated about 40 percent of the cases heard Friday involved minors caught in possession of alcohol. Prosecutors warned people that if they were convicted of that charge, the state would suspend their driving privileges for 30 days.

They also warned people that a conviction would be added to their criminal history, turning up on background checks.

Based on Branson’s figures, the docket generated more than $11,000 in fines, court costs and diversion fees. The fines go to the state general fund, the court costs go to the court and the diversion fees go to the county’s general fund, Branson said.