ST. GEORGE — A judge Wednesday dismissed charges against two Springdale town officials accused of mismanaging cash fines collected from tourists at traffic stops.
Town manager Richard Wixom and Police Chief Kurt Wright each were charged in February with one count of failing to pay over public money, a third-degree felony, according to charges filed in 5th District Court.
According to court documents, officers acting under Wixom and Wright collected $33,158 in cash bail between July 2006 and October 2011. That money was then sent to the town's funds rather than to the Hurricane Justice Court to be allocated between state and local entities.
During a preliminary hearing Wednesday, Fifth District Court Judge Wallace Lee determined "the state did not meet the burden of proof" to continue the case, said Utah State Courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer.
The policy of having officers collect bail on the street is a bad policy. But the policy is not before the court today.
–Judge Wallace Lee
"From the court standpoint, there's no longer a case," Volmer said. "The judge did not find there was a probable cause to tie them to the charges."
Several questions lingered Wednesday as the case was thrown out, including who was responsible for depositing the money in a judicial account?
Lee said everyone in Springdale town government failed to ensure the law was followed. However, he said, nothing in state law addressed the responsibility.
"The court finds the policy of having officers collect bail on the street is a bad policy," said Lee, according to docket notes of the proceeding. "But the bail collection policy is not before the court today."
The state investigation was sparked by complaints from a Spanish tourist who was "pulled over and told she had to pay on-the-spot" for a 2011 traffic violation, former Utah State Auditor Auston G. Johnson told The Associated Press. "She didn't ask what would happen if she didn't pay the fine. She just paid it."
Town officials have said it's all but impossible to collect fines from tourists after they return to their homelands. They dropped the practice after Johnson's audit.
Wright has insisted his officers always gave tourists the option of paying fines by mail. He said he believed his department had authority to collect on-the-spot cash from willing motorists who were happy to avoid the hassle of dealing with a ticket later.
Contributing: The Associated Press