Brookfield trustees on June 26 approved changes to the village code which will allow more people facing local ordinance violations to admit liability and pay their fines online instead of attending an adjudication hearing at the village hall.
Police Chief Michael Kuruvilla said the change ought to provide convenience for those – including out-of-towners — who otherwise would have to make a trip to the village hall during a weekday afternoon when the hearings are held and streamline the process by having fewer cases to wade through.
Adjudication dates are not convenient for anyone working a typical 9-to-5 job. Police adjudication hearings and property code violation hearings are typically held on the same days, with code enforcement hearings starting at 1:30 p.m. and police hearings at 3:30 p.m.
“While the adjudicator can always give you a different date for a hearing, for some people there’s really no date that’s convenient,” Kuruvilla said.
According to Kuruvilla, more than half of those who show up at village hall for their adjudication hearings plead liable without any actual hearing taking place.
“Potentially, there’s a 60% upswing where we can reduce some of these people from coming,” Kuruvilla said.
Right now, the only people able to plead liable and pay a pre-set fine without having to appear at an adjudication hearing are those cited for parking violations and vehicle equipment-related compliance violations. Everybody else is required to appear before the village adjudicator.
Right now, the village accepts payment of parking and vehicle equipment compliance violations by cash, check and through the Illinois State Treasurer’s e-pay portal. But in the future, those wishing to pay those tickets and ones to be added to the list will use an online payment system that will be part of the village’s redesigned website, which will be rolled out later this summer.
The change won’t come immediately, said Assistant Village Manager Stevie Ferrari. While the new website may be rolled out sooner, the new online payment system for local ordinance violations is more likely to go live by the end of the summer.
Police, meanwhile, are still identifying exactly which violations would qualify for avoiding an in-person hearing. However, during a discussion of the program earlier this month, Kuruvilla told elected officials that the list would include violations such as being in public parks after hours, possessing open alcohol in public and shooting off fireworks.
Kuruvilla said that for those kinds of violations, those cited would be able to plead liable and pay a $100 fine to avoid an in-person hearing. The $100 figure, said Kuruvilla, was “was the average fine assessed for those taking a plea of liable at local court hearings.”
Fines for parking ($50) and vehicle compliance violations ($25) would not increase when they are transferred over to the new payment system on the village’s website, Kuruvilla said.
There will continue to be many violations that will require those cited to appear before an adjudicator. Any local ordinance violation resulting from a complaint by a third party, such as disorderly conduct, or instances where a person commits the same offense repeatedly, would come before the local adjudicator.
In addition, any case involving a juvenile, where a parent’s presence is required, would also require an in-person hearing.
And, of course, anyone wishing to contest a local ordinance citation can opt to appear with or without a lawyer at the adjudication hearing.
“If you want your day in court, you can do that,” Kuruvilla said.
In addition, the village board voted to pass on any commission fees charged by the village’s third-party collection agency to those who resist paying village fines and fees instead of the village eating the 30% commission its agency takes when successfully collecting those fees and fines.
Through the efforts of Municipal Collection Services Inc., the village’s collection agency, Brookfield from 2021 to the present has collected about $134,000. However, after MCSI took its cut, the village netted about $94,000.
Kuruvilla estimated that by passing commissions fee along to those whose fines have gone into collection, the village can recoup about $18,000 a year.