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Some Relief for Those with Milwaukee Municipal Court Warrants

Three ‘Warrant Withdrawal Wednesdays’ scheduled for November

Nov. 8, 2016
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Milwaukee County Courthouse - J Ferrer

On three Wednesdays in November, the City of Milwaukee Municipal Court will be addressing the problems caused by outstanding warrants. Last Wednesday, just under 900 individuals checked in to get their warrants withdrawn, for free.

The next “Warrant Withdrawal Wednesdays” events will be held Nov. 9 and Nov. 16 at the Municipal Court, 951 N. James Lovell St., from 8:30-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-5:30 p.m.

Typically, those with warrants must pay $20 to get their warrant lifted or 30% of their municipal judgment to get a driver’s license suspension vacated. Those initial fees go toward the eventual court judgment.

But on Warrant Withdrawal Wednesdays, municipal court judges were lifting warrants and driver’s license suspensions without those initial payments. The court then set up payment plans, extended the payment deadline or recommended community service options. 

According to Sheldyn Himle, chief court administrator of the Milwaukee Municipal Court, last Wednesday 1,367 warrants were withdrawn and 1,214 driver’s license suspensions were vacated. Fewer than 100 individuals set up an installment payment plan, Himle said, while the rest got an extension to pay off their fines.

Prior to the event, Himle said there were 118,000 outstanding municipal warrants affecting 60,000 people.

An outstanding warrant can hinder an individual’s attempt to find housing or get a job. And if you’re caught driving with a suspended license, your legal troubles will multiply. In addition, the stress of a municipal court warrant can also have a great effect on that individual. 

Although the lines within the court were long last Wednesday, those waiting to clear their warrants were in a good mood and eager to get into the courtroom. The event was extended one hour to 6:30 p.m. to accommodate demand. 

“We really wanted to provide people an opportunity to remove barriers,” Himle told the Shepherd. “The feedback we were getting from people shows we accomplished that absolutely, 100%.”

Making Court Accessible

Himle said the Wednesday events attempt to make municipal court more welcoming and accessible to those who are afraid to come into the court.

Even when there isn’t a special event, those with warrants can come to court any day to address their outstanding warrants and additional issues, if necessary.

Himle wanted to remind those with outstanding municipal warrants that they will never be arrested for their municipal violations, whether they come into court on a specially designated Warrant Withdrawal Wednesday or not. 

“On any day during court hours you can walk in and say, ‘I want to see a judge,’ and we will get you in the courtroom,” Himle said. “We are accessible but you need to come in. Part of our issue is that if you don’t come in we don’t know enough about you to help you resolve this.”

She added that the social service agency Justice Point is on site to provide services for those who have mental health or substance abuse issues or are indigent and cannot pay their fines.

“But we don’t know that and we can’t help you with that unless you are here,” Himle said. 

Sue Eckhart, program director of JusticePoint’s municipal court alternatives program, said that 39 individuals chose last Wednesday to work off their fine via community service, although one person later changed their mind. Eckert said that JusticePoint will do an additional assessment of those individuals’ needs.

“When we go back to court we will make our official recommendations,” Eckhart said.

Himle said Milwaukee’s municipal court is looking at Cleveland’s efforts to reduce that city’s outstanding warrants, among them the In the Neighborhood program, in which court staffers go out into the community to address outstanding warrant issues. The events were held in churches, community centers and corner lots to make the municipal court as accessible as possible. 

“We’re looking at that and saying, we’re mobile, we could possibly do that as well and asking would that be even a greater benefit because people don’t have to come Downtown?” Himle said. 

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