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Local court has 1,532 warrants

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By David Giuliani

Las Vegas’ Municipal Court has 1,532 outstanding warrants — and little is being done to reduce that number because of a lack of manpower, officials say.

“This has become a monster,” Municipal Judge Eddie Trujillo said. “The warrants haven’t been reduced at all. I signed 50 more today.”

The pile of warrants may sound like a big number to many, but it’s not entirely unusual.

Similarly sized Deming has about the same number, while Clovis, which is bigger than Las Vegas, has 1,063, but that court only goes back a year with its warrants. Socorro, which is around two-thirds the size of Las Vegas, only has 170.

The number of warrants in Las Vegas became an issue during a report by Trujillo at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Councilman Morris Madrid contended Las Vegas’ number was too high. He said the city needed to budget more overtime for officers to execute warrants or better yet, hire a certified officer to work for the court.

“If it’s in your budget, that person would be dedicated to handling warrants,” Madrid told the judge. In the Police Department, he said, that person may be diverted to other tasks.

He said such a person would bring in more revenue from fines to the city and bring more respect for the court and the police. The court reports that $350,000 in fines is more than 180 days past due.

Trujillo said he once had an employee in his court who tracked warrants but that person left a couple of years ago and the position hasn’t been filled. He asked for authority to hire someone.

On Thursday, Zella Cox, program manager with the state Administrative Office of the Courts, said the number of outstanding warrants at Las Vegas’ court isn’t all that high, considering it’s the accumulated number from many years. She said many of the people may have died or moved away, so it’ll be hard to track them down.

“Only a judge can quash a warrant. If a judge hasn’t quashed a warrant and the Police Department hasn’t served it, it remains an active warrant,” Cox said.

At the meeting, Councilman Andrew Feldman said he didn’t want to tell the judge how to do his job but that when sentences are deferred, it’s a waste of police officers’ time. He contended that if people couldn’t afford fines, they shouldn’t have broken the law.

He added that those who couldn’t pay the fines could work community service.

“If their friends see them picking up trash, they’ll think twice before breaking the law again,” he said.

The judge said the community service program was working well, noting that offenders put in 1,975 hours of service last fiscal year, which saved the city $13,825 in wages.

The court handles traffic and other city offenses. As for DWIs, Trujillo’s policy is to handle those up to the second offense. He told the council that he doesn’t handle third and subsequent offenses because starting with the third, the state mandates 30-day jail sentences, which would place a big financial burden on the court.

Third offenses are referred to Magistrate Court, which is state funded.

Mayor Tony Marquez said he thinks the court shouldn’t have to worry about the financial impact. If someone needs to go to jail, that’s what the court should do, he said.

“I think we should send a message of zero tolerance,” he said.

Trujillo said he isn’t shy about sending people to the lockup when it’s deserved.

“I sent six people to jail today,” he said.