Alvarado was a defense attorney before becoming a judge, and regularly accompanied clients to night court. The later hours provided flexibility to people who would otherwise have to take time off their jobs to deal with their case, he said.
“I didn’t think it was fair to have to miss work to pay a $150 fine,” Alvarado said. “As much as I hated going to those late courts, it worked better for my clients to go in the evening.”
The recorder’s court typically handles traffic tickets, local ordinance violations and some driving under the influence charges. The first few months of night court will focus on simpler cases, like traffic tickets, so cases aren’t held up by necessary resources that aren’t available after hours.
The pilot program will not cost the county any additional money, Alvarado said. He proposed the idea after the recorder’s court had submitted its annual budget request, so he had to figure out how to make it work without any additional expenses. Alvarado is one of the three recorder’s court judges and he will oversee the monthly night court sessions himself for “the first few months,” along with his clerk, a prosecutor and some Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office courtroom deputies.
The night sessions will be held at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center instead of at the recorder’s court building on Stone Mountain Street, but they will eventually move to that building if the program is successful, according to the county. The monthly sessions, which will take about 40 cases each initially, will be a way to gauge whether there is a demand for evening court hours, Alvarado said. The regular recorder’s court hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the night court will begin at 6 p.m.
If the program is successful, Alvarado believes it could take on all types of recorder’s court cases and could handle up to 100 cases per night, as a normal day schedule would.
“Before I ask for money to operate a night court, I want to make sure it’s something the public wants and needs,” Alvarado said. “If, after a couple of months, it looks like there’s not much of a demand, we can decide we don’t need it and we won’t have used any additional taxpayer money. But if there is a significant demand and people want it, we can ask for it in the next budget and show the commissioners proof that it’s already working.”
The court has begun offering night slots to people who have requested to change their court dates, and 10 of the 40 March slots are already full. The first night court date is March 26.
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The cameras in place outside one Gwinnett school