Salt Lake judge offers an option to donate to the COVID cause rather than paying court fines.
The Salt Lake City Justice Court in Utah will be accepting charitable donations in lieu of fines, fees or community service hours from offenders who are ordered to submit payments to the court. The court announced that anyone with a debt and pay it to either Shelter the Homeless or the Salt Lake Education Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund, or they can volunteer with specified community groups that are combating COVID-19. Participants will need to obtain a receipt from the organization upon payment and provide it to the court or provide signed documentation of their service hours.
According to Judge Clemens Landau, who issued the order, “This initiative is dual-purposed: it helps get money to the communities who need it the most while helping people in the court system move through quickly and efficiently.” He added, “We’re trying to keep courts moving along and also get donations to resources that need them the most. We figured this was the best way to meet those needs. It’s an unusual step but it was a step to help people who need it most and get people to take care of their court fees.”
Landau said the courts “will likely have a backlog of nearly 1,500 cases” when normal operations resume – tentatively in June. He hopes offenders will decided to contribute to the cause and, in doing so, quickly resolve their cases. The judge is asking that anyone with an uncomplicated matter to get in touch with the Salt Lake City prosecutor and a public defender to keep their cases moving forward remotely in the interim. This will help push all open cases along.
James Yapias, director of development for the Salt Lake Education Foundation, said of the new effort, “I think what’s most important is that we continue to collaborate. There’s a lot of people who need help, so we need to work together.”
Landau and Yapias indicated the courts aren’t yet sure how many people have donated instead of paying fines, but Landau estimates the number is less than twenty. He is still trying to spread awareness around the alternative payment options.
These unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures to be taken for communities to rebuild in the aftermath of the pandemic. As David Rogers, vice president at Ministry Brands explains, there is no established guidance in place for how to best help the effort.
“Unlike a hurricane where you can donate clothes or bake a lasagna, there is no rule book for this. But I will say cash is very important at this point,” he said.
While asking defendants to offer a charitable donation or volunteer their time rather than pay a traditional court fee may be part of the ‘new normal’ everyone keeps talking about, this is one way to keep the economy afloat. Landau hopes the push to resolve complicated court matters before reopening will also help keep businesses going. He explained, “When the danger subsides, (offenders) won’t have to spend ten days in jail and will be ready to work by the time the economy reopens.”