LAS VEGAS -- There were 173 unlucky motorists who showed up Monday, April 16, at Traffic Court in the basement of the Regional Justice Center, a typical day's parade of individuals cited for speeding, jaywalking, distracted driving or driving without a license, vehicle registration or insurance.
One by one, they stepped forward after their names were called to appear before pro-tem Judge Chuck Paine, a retired former chief deputy Clark County district attorney who substitutes for Clark County Justice Court judges when they need someone to fill in.
There are hanging judges and there are sympathetic ones. Paine fits squarely in the latter category, which partly explains why he meted out the following justice:
* All 55 of the individuals who pleaded guilty to moving violations were fined. But first-time speeding offenders in particular and others, such as an individual who failed to yield at a stop sign, had violations knocked down to illegal parking so that no points would appear on their driving records.
* Of the 10 Individuals cited for jaywalking, five escaped fines. They were primarily first-time jaywalking offenders who still had to listen to a stern lecture from Paine on the mounting auto-pedestrian death toll so far this year in the Las Vegas Valley.
A young bicyclist who ran into a car while wearing headphones and broke his arm also escaped a fine.
"The broken arm was enough," Paine said dryly.
Paine explained during a break that the Justice Court for several years has had a policy of reducing speeding tickets to illegal parking citations, especially for first-time offenders. But Paine said the speeding violation still stays on the driver's record so if there is a repeat offense, the judge will slap the offender with a heavier penalty.
By county ordinance, Paine said a speeding ticket for a first-time offender can be as high as $500. But he said the Justice Court has adopted a schedule with much lower fines. Going one to 10 miles an hour over the speed limit is a $145 fine, but it's $195 for driving 11 to 20 mph over the limit, $215 for 21 to 30 mph over the limit and $305 for 31 to 40 mph over the limit. Jaywalking fines are $95.
If, for instance, a motorist goes one to 10 mph over the limit but it's his second offense, Paine will levy a $195 penalty, the range generally reserved for the offender who breaks the speed limit by 11 to 20 mph. In other words, he shows no leniency for repeat offenders when it comes to the wallet or purse.
After one young woman was fined $112 for cell phone use while driving but had another citation for her failure to wear a seatbelt dismissed, Paine told her: "You're a very attractive woman. Don't let your face go through a windshield."
One repeat jaywalking offender slapped with a $95 fine heard this from Paine: "Two human beings a week in the last six weeks have been killed jaywalking. Don't be one."
Another young man had what in court parlance is known as a "book," a long list of citations that included repeat speeding violations along with infractions for driving vehicles with expired registration and without insurance. He managed to get a 2002 speeding warrant dismissed because it was so old but is still looking at total fines in the low four digits.
"Come on man," Paine said. "Cut it out."
Paine also didn't fall for it when one female offender tried to flirt with the judge in an unsuccessful attempt to squirm out of a $305 fine for driving without a valid license.
"You're so cute," she told Paine as the bailiff rolled his eyes.
But Paine showed compassion for many of the offenders who expressed financial hardship, something he said he is doing more frequently now than before the Great Recession, when Southern Nevada had a much stronger economy and lower unemployment.
A high percentage of the offenders who appeared in court said they were either unemployed or were collecting disability or Social Security. Many consequently opted to perform community service in lieu of paying their fines.
Paine agreed in some cases to reduce the minimum monthly fine payments for those who said they couldn't afford the county's standard payment plan of at least $100 a month. And there were also many instances where an individual with multiple offenses had some of those violations dismissed. This was particularly true in cases involving failure to wear a seatbelt or in instances where a moving violation was combined with another offense, such as a license issue that the motorist has since rectified.
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