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Small Louisiana Town Whose Mayor is the Judge, Rakes in a Curiously Large Amount of Money From Traffic Fines 

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Small Louisiana Town Whose Mayor is the Judge, Rakes in a Curiously Large Amount of Money From Traffic Fines 
Source: Pinterest

Small Louisiana Town Whose Mayor is the Judge, Rakes in a Curiously Large Amount of Money From Traffic Fines

Source: Pinterest

If you love camping, fishing, hunting, and hiking, Fenton, Louisiana, is one of the top places to visit. But the town of about 300 residents is famous for other things. 

The town rakes in millions of dollars from traffic fines, five times more than other towns of the same size. People believe that the Mayor, who doubles as its judge, has a hand in it.

A Bountiful Harvest of Revenue 

Source: Quora

A yearly revenue of $1.3 million from Long Lake, Michigan, with a population of 10,000 people, wouldn’t sound too unusual. But it will be for Fenton, with just 300 residents and a landmass that covers just 20 blocks. 

News is making the rounds that Fenton gets its bountiful harvest unusually and illegally through a questionable but money-spinning justice system for traffic offenses.

It's called the "Mayor's Court"

Source: Fox29LC/X

Fenton operates what is known as the “mayor’s court.” In a sense, the Mayor owns the court because he serves as both judge and jury. He can also appoint a magistrate to preside over the court. This kind of court is only found in Louisiana and Ohio. 

Fenton’s Mayor’s court is dedicated to addressing traffic offenses by looking into traffic tickets written by a few police officers.

How Does the Court Operate? 

Source: Quora

The Mayor appoints a prosecutor for the town to ensure that all traffic violations that breach its codified ordinances are appropriately punished. Furthermore, the court is open to drivers who want to contest their traffic tickets. 

The Mayor’s court is a centuries-old judicial practice that was retained even after Louisiana’s constitution was revised in the 1970s. Now, it operates informally to handle minor offenses.

Mayor's Courts and the Integrity Challenge

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Like municipal courts, Mayor’s courts must ensure defendants receive fair hearings and treatment. One way to achieve this is by ensuring the moral competence of the judge. 

But when the Mayor, who is tasked with generating revenue for the town, is the judge, it’s difficult to trust the integrity of his judgments. It is also difficult not to link him to the enormous revenue the town has realized.

Fenton is Making Too Much Money From Traffic Fines 

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Speaking on the legality of the Mayor’s court system, Eric Foley, a civil rights attorney, was clear on where the law stands. “They sort of operate in the shadow of the law,” he said.

Fenton’s revenue for the year ending June 2022 was around five times that of the average Louisiana municipality of the same size. Concerned individuals and bodies have pointed fingers at the Mayor.

Something is Fishy in Fenton's Fines and Forfeitures 

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Another curious discovery in Fenton’s revenue generation is its massive receipts from “fines and forfeitures”-the category that traffic fines fall under. On average, only 1.7% of a United States municipality’s revenue is derived from fines and forfeitures. 

But Fenton’s fines and forfeitures percentage is miles away at 92.5%. According to an expert survey, this is the highest percentage of any Louisiana municipality.

Taxation By Citation 

Source: NOLANews/X

Critics of Fenton’s revenue generation scheme describe it as “taxation by citation.” They believe that the Mayor’s court obscures the role of police departments. 

According to Joanna Weiss of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, which advocates equitable fines and the removal of fees in the justice system, “It’s almost impossible to generate that much of your revenue without doing pretty abusive things.”Fenton Town’s Attorney Disagrees 

Fenton Town's Attorney Disagrees 

Source: Quora

Fenton Town’s attorney, Mike Holmes, has justified the town’s huge fine and forfeiture revenue percentage. Like other towns, he explained that Fenton doesn’t get much from sales and property taxes. 

“While revenues fluctuate from year to year, Village of Fenton Police Department has long had an active traffic enforcement policy,” he clarified. But many interested parties aren’t buying his argument.

Court Records Disagree With Holmes' Claims 

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A team of journalists have reached out for the town’s court records. The records paint a different picture from Mike Holmes’ claim that the Mayor runs the court proceedings in a “neutral, impartial manner.” 

The records show notes from cops and town employees advocating stiffer penalties for drivers with a “bad attitude.” Others implied that the police chief and some other personalities influenced decisions to dismiss charges.

Town Officials Gave Conflicting Testimonies of the Mayor's Courtroom Conduct 

Source: Quora

Aside from the alarming revelations from the court records, interviews with town officials fanned the flames of doubt. According to the team of journalists, the accounts from officials about the Mayor’s handling of the court, and the outrageously high number of driver’s license suspensions, their responses were contradictory. 

Many concerned people, including practicing lawyers, have called on the town to stop its Mayor from presiding over the court.

The Supreme Court Had Ruled Against the Validity of Fenton's Mayor's Court 

Source: Quora

Supreme court rulings say that a mayor can’t be impartial if he manages the town’s finances and also rules over the court. However, another verdict stated that the Mayor can not be unbiased if over 10% of the town’s revenue came from the Mayor’s court decisions. 

The flagrant disregard for the Supreme Court ruling and public perceptions of bias indicates that the county has much to gain from the Mayor’s court system.