Municipal courts taking measures to help those facing financial hardships

The Somerton Municipal Court (seen here) is offering extended deadlines for fine payments to help people with financial difficulties amid the coronavirus outbreak.

SOMERTON — Municipal courts in south Yuma County are extending due dates for payment of court fines and taking other measures to help residents facing financial hardships stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.

“We know that with this emergency a lot of people could be in economic difficulty, and the in the courts we are offering facilities and flexibility those who have (court fines and other charges),” Somerton Municipal Judge Manuel Figueroa said.

On top of extended deadlines for payment fines, he said, the court is granting people an additional 60 days’ extension if they request it.

Also, he added, the court is giving a grace period to people before turning unpaid fines over to the state Supreme Court’s collection agency, which applies additional surcharges for delinquent payments.

The court is also extending the deadline from 30 days to 120 days for people to prove they have completed driving classes that they are required to take as part of their sentences. Figueroa said many people otherwise would have trouble complying with the one-month deadline for completing the classes owing to social distancing guidelines that are reducing the number of students to 10 per class.

In San Luis, Ariz., Municipal Judge Nohemy Echavarria said the court routinely crafts payment schedules that allow defendants to pay their fines without undergoing financial hardship.

“We offer facilities all the time, and with greater cause now in this emergency,” she said. “But people have to need to notify (the court). If they don’t have money to pay a fine, they can make an appointment to speak with us. “But the important thing is that they don’t ignore the court.”

She added that the court can also work out arrangements with defendants to reduce their required hours of community service so they have time necessary to dedicate to their jobs or finding work.

Both judges said their courts are restricting access by the public as part of measures to limit court employees’ risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

The Yuma County Superior Court last month issued an order instructing municipal judges to allow access only by employees and those involved in cases heard by the courts.

Also, as part of safety measures, the courts are barring admittance by people who display such symptoms as coughing, fevers or difficulty breathing.

For more information about court restrictions or fine payments, people can call the Somerton Municipal Court at 928-627-2722 or 928-627-8152, or the San Luis Municipal Court at 928-341-8595.

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