City of Muskegon drivers who have received civil infraction traffic tickets will no longer have to stand in line at the 60th District Court to resolve the violations; instead, they can use a newly debuted online system, court officials recently announced.
The 60th District Court launched the new online pilot program as an effort to more easily connect individuals charged with civil traffic infractions—such as speeding or running red lights—with resolutions to their cases.
“We recognize that taking time from work, school or other obligations to wait in line at the courthouse can be frustrating,” Chief District Court Judge Raymond J. Kostrzewa said in a press release. “Now citizens are able to interact with both the City of Muskegon Police Department and the 60th District Court for resolution of their traffic citation from the comfort of their own home, at the time of their choosing. They don’t have to take time off from their job or arrange for transportation to and from the court.”
The new program, called “Matterhorn,” allows drivers to access their cases through the 60th District Court’s website, including to provide information about circumstances surrounding the ticket—such as why they believe they shouldn’t have to pay the fine. As part of the program, law enforcement officers are able to review the driver’s case and offer recommendations. After the driver and police weigh in, a magistrate determines the next steps, including assessing fines that a litigant can pay online. Throughout the process, the individual with the ticket receives emails and text messages updating them on the status of their case.
60th District Court Administrator Patrick A. Finnegan hopes the new online system will make resolving a traffic violation a less stressful and time intensive process.
“When I started working in Muskegon, the one thing that caught my attention is the sheer frenetic energy that takes place in the courthouse,” Finnegan said in an interview with the Muskegon Times. “There’s just a lot of volume, a lot of people here. The first thing you notice when you walk through the door is there’s a line of folks. Most people in that line are waiting for traffic citation information. It’s a cumbersome process, and anything we can do to make that experience a little easier for them is something we’re interested in exploring.”
Currently, only those who have received a traffic ticket from the City of Muskegon Police Department are eligible to participate in the online program, but Finnegan said he expects the initiative to expand.
“As of right now, the city of Muskegon is the largest ticket writer in Muskegon County, and they said they’re willing to try this,” Finnegan said. “The city has signed on first to do that; all the other chiefs of police around the county have said they’re interested and want to see how it works with the city of Muskegon first. I think it’s only a matter of time before it’s countywide.”
Designed by Court Innovations Inc., an Ann Arbor-based software company that originated in the University of Michigan Law School, the Matterhorn program is used by 27 district courts across Michigan. East Lansing, for example, uses the program—which a Muskegon judge ended up utilizing after receiving an unexpected parking ticket.
“We were traveling to a conference in Lansing, and, when we were leaving a restaurant, our parking meters were up and the parking attendant happened to be behind the judge’s car,” Finnegan said. “They were about to write a parking citation, and we said, ‘Hey, we’re on our way out,’ so they said they’d make sure it didn’t get filed.”
Instead, two weeks later, the judge received notice of a parking citation.
“They said, ‘Wait a minute, I was told I didn’t have to pay,’ but the court’s in East Lansing and we’re in Muskegon,” Finnegan said. “How do you have your voice heard without requesting a hearing and having to drive to East Lansing over a $10 parking ticket? But this court had adopted Matterhorn, the judge typed up the story, and they got a notice the case was dismissed. It served the interest of justice.”
Since quietly rolling out the initiative in January, the court has reviewed 21 cases through the new online system, and, as word spreads about the program, the number of people accessing the platform is increasing, Finnegan said. There’s now about one request a day that comes in through the Matterhorn program.
As the program continues, Finnegan said he’d encourage individuals to connect with their local police departments if they’d want them to use the new initiative.
“We need people to say this service is valuable and make use of it for us to justify using it,” he said. “If your municipality doesn’t participate, I’d encourage them to reach out to their police agency and explain the benefit of this.”