This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
SALT LAKE CITY — A legislative audit of the Utah State Courts released Tuesday shows that at least one city in the state is using traffic courts to avoid sharing their traffic violation revenues with the state.
The audit, which is provided to the state Legislature, recommended that state politicians consider whether state oversight of traffic schools is necessary to ensure that proceeds are shared with the state.
While the audit reported that traffic citations are not being issued to generate revenue — as some feared would happen during a recession — it did find that traffic schools are unregulated and are being used by South Ogden to collect fees that are kept from the state.
Not only did the attorney defend the legalities of the practice, but he was surprised other cities were not taking advantage of the same legal loophole.
"Our review found that traffic school revenue is generally shared with the state," the audit states. "However, one city's police department has been issuing invitations to participate in traffic schools in lieu of issuing citations in some circumstances. This practice bypasses the citation process and allows the traffic offender to only pay for traffic school."
Because the court is not involved and no additional fees or surcharges are levied, South Ogden is able to keep all revenue, which comes to an average of $100,000 a year. The auditor contacted the city's attorney about the practice, according to the report.
"Not only did the attorney defend the legalities of the practice, but he was surprised other cities were not taking advantage of the same legal loophole," the audit states.
This raised concern from the auditors that similar systems could be implemented in other cities and raised the question of whether the Legislature wanted to review the practice.
"To ensure that state resources are guarded, the Legislature may want to consider if municipalities should be allowed to use traffic school invitations as an alternative to issuing citations," the audit states.
In response to the practice, Utah State Courts Administrator Daniel Becker said court officials are concerned that this practice could "undermine public trust and confidence in the courts."
"A traffic offender who is given the option of attending traffic school or being issued a citation to appear in court will not likely draw the distinction between the local law enforcement tactic and the judicial process," Becker wrote.
Becker expressed his concern that the offender would then think the threat of court was coming from a judge, who wouldn't even know a citation had been issued.
Regarding traffic schools, the auditors also suggested that the state implement minimum requirements for traffic schools to better control their quality.