Gantt hopes court will feed coffers

Published 10:20 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

For the last seven years, the town of Gantt has had no municipal court system.

In July, the town re-established its court system in the hopes it will infuse some much-needed revenue into the town coffers.

Mayor pro tem Melissa “Missy” Grissett said city council members recognized the both the need for and the benefits of the system.

“Things have not been easy for the town of Gantt,” Grissett said. “(The members of the city council) thought that by establishing a court system, it would be a step in the right direction for the town. It has always been one of our main goals to have a fully functioning court system that would sustain not only itself but also the police department.

“And I think we’ve almost accomplished that,” she said.

Thursday marked the second court session. More than 20 cases were heard during the night’s process. Serving as judge is Walt Merrill; prosecutor is Stacey Brooks and David Baker is the defense attorney. All three are local attorneys. Town clerk Christy Cartwright serves as magistrate.

“Many years ago, the town had a court,” Merrill said. “It was dissolved. According to Alabama Code, when you dissolve a court, you have to start all over from scratch. Which means new ordinances, resolutions. You have to set new court costs. There’s a lot of work in pulling something like this together.

“Everyone on board has worked really hard to accomplish that,” he said. “When the council approached me about (being judge) they told me what they wanted was something that would give structure within the town and they felt like a municipal court was the way to do it.”

Merrill said the majority of the cases that come before the court are traffic related.

“We also have a handful of misdemeanor cases like harassment and domestic violence,” he said. “But the majority, of course, is traffic cases like seat belt violations, child safety restraint violations, that sort of thing.”

Violators have the option of paying the fines or community service, if the judge deems it appropriate.

“Our fine schedule mirrors that of the district court,” Merrill said. “Obviously, the council worked to make sure that this didn’t become just a money making opportunity because they encourage community service and driving school when it’s appropriate.

“Folks deserve a second chance,” he said.

And among those involved in the process, the establishment of the court system is the town’s second chance.

“There were a lot of logistical hurdles to overcome before things got going,” Merrill said. “We had to redo all the ordinances and such. In addition, the process was delayed more by the fact that the town’s business was circumvented by extenuating circumstances. Once those were cleared, the council was finally able to get going.”

Grissett said the town is beginning to see the benefits of a fully functioning court and police department.

“Our ultimate goal has always been to make Gantt a great place to live,” she said. “We’ve got two officers on the road who keep the citizens of Gantt safe, and we’ve got a court system that’s beginning to make a little money.

“That’s two significant steps in the right direction,” she said.

Court is held the third Thursday of ever month, beginning at 5:30 p.m.