Judge: Program to clear warrants not approved

The "Warrant Clinic" was advertised as an opportunity to clear outstanding warrants (Source: WAFB)
The "Warrant Clinic" was advertised as an opportunity to clear outstanding warrants (Source: WAFB)
Baton Rouge City Court House (Source: WAFB)
Baton Rouge City Court House (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Baton Rouge judge says "not so fast" to a program rolled out Monday by EBR Metro Councilwoman Erika Green.

The "Warrant Clinic" was advertised as an opportunity for citizens to clear outstanding bench warrants without fear of arrest or financial penalty. But City Court Administrative Judge Tarvald Smith said he and his fellow judges never approved the specifics.

"There may have been some miscommunication, but the intention is good," Smith explained. "I was just surprised that a roll out happened unbeknownst to the five judges here. We have not even met and tried to put out a plan for it."

Green invited the public to the Leo S. Butler Community Center Monday evening to pre-register for the Warrant Clinic. A flyer handed out at the event advertised future opportunities to pre-register for the clinic that was tentatively scheduled for May 19th. Smith believes pre-registration adds an unnecessary step for the public.

"We are in the process of trying to facilitate a very streamlined procedure to (clear warrants) for the community," Smith said. "It may not just be one day – it could be a week. You come during this week, your warrant is recalled without any fear of arrest or financial penalty, however you'll be given a date and an opportunity to work your matters out with city court."

The judge stressed that this is NOT an amnesty program. Even when a bench warrant is cleared, the initial charge still must be worked out with the court.

Baton Rouge City Court currently manages about 104,000 active bench warrants. They're issued when someone fails to show up to court for a traffic ticket or misdemeanor arrest. Smith said between 75 – 100 warrants are cleared in an average day, but periodic warrant recall programs can clear up to 5,000 warrants in one weekend.

Smith said there are no guarantees for the people who pre-registered Monday evening. He added that anyone with an outstanding warrant can come to the City Courthouse any day of the week to take care of it.

Green said she'll follow up with Judge Smith this week to make sure everyone is on the same page. She hopes to announce updated plans for a warrant recall program soon.

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