The City of Lincoln City is starting to take a closer look on what the role of the Municipal Court should be within its coastal town.
The City Council held a special meeting on June 29, where City Attorney Richard Appicello advocated for the Municipal Court to exercise jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes that occur within city limits. Currently, by state statute, the Municipal Court and City Attorney have jurisdiction over all misdemeanor criminal offenses committed within the City limits of the City of Lincoln City. However, at this time, the Court is not exercising its jurisdiction over misdemeanors.
Currently, the Municipal Court in Lincoln City is not a court of record. An appeal of a conviction for violation or a crime from such a court results in a de novo trial in circuit court - as the Municipal Court proceeding did not occur. Appicello argues that this system is inefficient.
“From my experience, local criminal prosecution and probation monitoring of misdemeanants will enhance local law enforcement,” Appicello said. “For both violations and crimes, not having to travel to Newport would save time and expense for officers, witnesses and defendants.”
Lincoln City Police Department (LCPD) Chief Jerry Palmer was on hand for the discussion and expressed some of his concerns for giving the Municipal Court that jurisdiction, claiming that it somewhat “ties their hands” of what they are able to do or can’t do.
Palmer explained that currently, LCPD is able to take someone who commits a misdemeanor crime to the Lincoln County Jail if applicable, but with a Municipal Court, a citation may be the officer’s only option. Palmer also noted that LCPD only has a few holding cells that they can only utilize for a maximum of four hours before a person is released or taken to the county jail.
Although Palmer was not in the Lincoln City area when the Municipal Court last had jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes, he was made aware of flaw in the system, which was explained by Sgt. Jeffrey Winn and David Broderick at the meeting, who were both with LCPD at that time.
“What happened in the past when defendants failed to comply or failed to appear… they would be issued a muni court warrant, but without a city jail, those defendants would receive a second citation to appear, they’d then receive a third and fourth and it became a cycle because we can’t lodge them,” Palmer said.
Sgt. Winn made note of saying that a potential warrant cycle would ultimately cost the city more money in the long run, while also causing potential conflict for officers who would be forced to make decisions on how to issue the citations.
Broadrick stated that under the current system, LCPD is able to get repeat offenders out of the community for a certain period of time, while a municipal court takes that option away.
“We are happy to perform our duties in whatever manner that the council feels is in the best interest of the city… it’s just a lot more complicated in our minds to say we’re going to start doing this in municipal court,” Palmer said. “There will be parts of it that may make us more efficient, but based on previous experience, there’s some issue that will exasperate some of the problems we have in town.”
Palmer stated that LCPD sent about 1,100 misdemeanor crimes from Lincoln City to the District Attorney’s office in Newport this past year. He expressed some concerns with the city’s ability to follow up on violations if handled in a municipal court.
The Councilors were open to discussing a Municipal Court option in further detail. Mayor Dick Anderson raised the biggest question of how much this was going to cost the city.
“I’m very concerned with the economics of it,” Anderson said.
City Manager Ron Chandler said in a 2018 budget, they figured in a municipal court, which would cost up to $250,000 plus staffing, with $100,000 in revenue for the city.
“It’s not all about the money,” Appicello said. “Local law enforcement in the municipal court takes some of the burden off the District Attorney’s office… They get to work on the higher level offenses.
“It’s worth the investment even if you don’t make more money. I think we can do more good for the city by fully utilizing the municipal court.”
Councilor Diana Hinton proposed creating a city work group to enhance discussions on Municipal Court. The Council agreed that was the route they would be taking.