The Dallas Examiner
One out of every four Dallas County criminal defendants fails to show up for court, according to a 2013 study by a UNT-Dallas criminology professor. Out of those who miss court dates, 30 percent are for misdemeanor charges.
There are many people in the area who miss court dates due to their jobs and other obligations. The conflicting court hours can lead to large late fees, 30 percent collection service fees and extra lawyer fees due to these absences.
Soon, people who could be faced with the issue of having to miss work to attend court will have relief. Judge Thomas Jones recently announced that he would extend his court hours the first Monday of the month, with new court hours from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at selected Precinct 1 courts after the May 6 general election.
“What we hope to gain from it is a better service to the community,” he said. “We know people have to work late. We know an adult can’t take off their job all the time to take care of court business, so it’s left up to us to provide better service to the community. We should not have to wait for the taxpayers to ask for it because we see what’s going on in our courts.”
After the elections, Jones, Justice Court Precinct 1-Place 1; Judge Valencia Nash, Justice Court Precinct 1-Place 2; and Constable Tracey Gulley in Constable Precinct 1, will begin night court sessions to assist working citizens in Oak Cliff and Lancaster. Full services will be provided during the sessions.
“Many of our people, to use our courts, have to take off of work. When people get off of work at 4 or 5 p.m., we’re closing,” Jones stated. “We thought one way we could [help] is to provide a better service to our community is to at least start off the initial phase with what we call the ‘first Monday,’ where people will know that on the first Monday of every month, they can come to the courthouse, whether here on Polk Street or on Texas Street, and conduct their business.”
Currently, the night court sessions will be limited to only once a month, but there is a possibility for the initiative to occur on a weekly basis.
“My hope is that this will be the beginning of something that can blossom into having night court,” Jones said. “If the demand would dictate that, then we will extend the hours not just for the first Monday but for every day.”
All residents will be able to enjoy the new extension, and local tax dollars will not be affected by the changes.
“The offices are open based on taxpayers’ money, so that’s why we need to provide more service,” Jones explained. “In order to do that, we realize that our staff has families and need to be paid to come here. We repositioned our staff. That way we are not taking any extra dollars from the taxpayers. We will use the same budget, move the people around and the money that is associated with each one of them will move with that individual.”
Individuals outside of the Precinct 1 courthouse will be able to enjoy the time modification as well. To transfer to one of the participating courthouses, the citizen will have to provide a written request to the current court they’re in for a change of venue and specify where they would like to be transferred, according to Jones.
“This is something the community is entitled to, [and] we must use these courts in an effective and efficient way,” he said.