Mahwah will try to adjudicate several dozen backlogged DWI cases with an extra court date, township officials announced at a council meeting last Thursday.
Each month, the township will add one additional Friday court session to address DWI cases only, Business Administrator Brian Campion said at the meeting. The plan to use the extra court date satisfied superior court judges in Hackensack who took issue with the number of backlogged DWI cases – or those that have been pending in the Mahwah court system for over 60 days – officials said.
The township has more than 40 backlogged cases, several of which are more than a year old, officials said. According to Campion, the county first asked the township to address the issue in April of 2012, but measures implemented then were not sufficient to get through the backlogged cases.
The new court date will not require a new judge or prosecutor, or additional court staff, and can be paid for using the township’s existing court budget, officials said.
According to Mayor Bill Laforet, the township, and judges from Hackensack, will continue to monitor the pace of the DWI hearings, as the township has set a goal of getting through all of them by the end of this year. The township will work to “control adjournments,” as many of the pending cases have been adjourned multiple times, he said.
The moves should help mitigate some of the other issues that have come up in the Mahwah court system, Laforet said.
Mahwah will look into having a collection agency attempt to collect $185,000 in uncollected court fines that date back to 1997, he said.
“We will seek a court-approved collection agency to try to collect some of this money,” he said. Though Laforet said he was not optimistic about collecting backlogged payments that have been pending since the late 1990s, he said the attempt to collect due fines would help streamline the DWI court process in the township.
During a heated exchange at the council meeting, Councilman John Roth accused Laforet of exaggerating the issue in a recent newspaper article that quoted Laforet as saying the DWI backlog was a “catastrophic” issue in Mahwah. According to Roth, most other towns in Bergen County also have a large number of backlogged DWI cases.
Laforet said he stood by his statement.
“Just because you get a DWI doesn’t mean you stop drinking,” Laforet, who said he was concerned because consequences for the drivers in these cases are not instituted until after the cases have been heard, said. He called unheard DWI cases a “significant issue across the state,” and a “serious matter.”
Roth said that he did not disagree that DWIs should be handled as a serious issue, but that he “didn’t want it to be portrayed that Mahwah was so different from other towns in Bergen County,” in regard to backlogged cases.