UPDATE: Louisville judge rules that county attorney traffic prog - WDRB 41 Louisville News

UPDATE: Louisville judge rules that county attorney traffic program is unconstitutional

Posted: Updated:
Judge Sean Delahanty Judge Sean Delahanty

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – A judge has ruled that an online traffic program run by the county attorney that does not require the payment of court costs is unconstitutional.

However, Jefferson District Court Judge Sean Delahanty has agreed to dismiss more than 2,300 cases in which prosecutors had already agreed to drop the traffic charge if citizens completed the Drive Safe Louisville program.

“While not legally authorized to do so, the Jefferson County Attorney entered into a plea agreement with each defendant … (promising) the traffic charges would be dismissed if they successfully completed DSL,” Delahanty wrote. "The offer in these cases must be enforced even though it was not legally appropriate."

The traffic cases will be dismissed after the offenders pay a $30 fee that is required by law. But Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell said in a statement that his office would pay the fees for the 2,300 traffic offenders, so as not to cause any further delay.

Delahanty had been the lone local judge holding out on agreeing to dismiss cases handled in traffic programs launched as revenue generators by county attorneys – even though the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled they are legal.

But what happens with traffic cases that now come before him is unclear.

O'Connell said in his statement that "no matter what Judge Delahanty opines in this opinion, the program is valid and may be operated in any county where the county attorney deems it appropriate. And we will continue to operate it here in Jefferson County, as it is a benefit to public safety and those looking for ways to resolve their cases."

And O'Connell criticized Delahanty for being the only judge in the state to hold us the traffic cases.

"While Judge Delahanty's sideshow has been a distraction and an unfortunate consequence for those 2,300 people whose cases have lingered unnecessarily, we are pleased that he will soon dismiss the cases as we requested."

In his ruling, Delahanty maintained that the statute passed by the General Assembly to allow the traffic programs "was rushed into implementation and is constitutionally flawed." The law "negates or unreasonably limits" the authority of the district court judges to use their own discretion in sentencing, he ruled.

And Delahanty wrote that he is also concerned about ethical issues involving the program, including the Louisville Metro Police Department telling traffic offenders about "Drive Safe Louisville." The county attorney’s office also sends letters to charged drivers when traffic citations are issued, telling them about DSL.

"The Court has serious concerns about the propriety of such actions by the County Attorney and persons acting on his behalf in contacting litigants directly despite being represented by counsel," according to the ruling.

In addition, Delahanty was concerned about the payments to a vendor to run the program – more than $1 million over the next three years – "for creating something that already exists, a traffic school.

"This is more than just a bad business decision; this is the dead skunk in the middle of the road," Delahanty wrote.

The county attorney's office has made an estimated $1,275,000 through the dismissal of citations, according to Delahanty.

In his statement, O'Connell said Judge Delahanty "has questioned the integrity of my office in scurrilous attacks meant only for his own political posturing. These attacks, which he reiterates in this flawed opinion, are baseless. We also vehemently disagree with the assertion that the program is unconstitutional."

Most of the more than 2,300 pending cases involve speeding or disregarding a stop sign or traffic signal, while a few dozen were for careless driving or texting.

O'Connell said the people whose cases had come before Delahanty were receiving "unequal treatment," with some not even knowing the traffic charges hadn't yet been dismissed.

So far, about 15,000 traffic violators have paid a fee, taken the Drive Safe Louisville program and had their cases dismissed without paying court costs, not counting those pending in front of Judge Delahanty.

O'Connell is one of more than 80 county prosecutors who have launched traffic schools to raise revenue for their offices. The money is distributed to several recipients, including the county clerk,

Drivers charged in Jefferson County with any of 17 moving violations can pay $179 to take a two-hour, online class and get their citation dismissed.

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