legislative committee established to recommend steps to be taken
in that regard completed its work on Jan. 4 by concluding that
the situation which brought the matter of reputed lax treatment
for repeat code violators to the fore was not what it originally
was thought to be.
previously reported by Delaforum, the special committee chaired
by Representative Robert Valihura will recommend that a new
provision be included in the state's criminal code defining
creation of a 'community nuisance' as a misdemeanor for
which a justice of the peace can sentence a violator to up to 30
days in jail. That would occur after three convictions for
the same building, housing, health or sanitation code within a
that at their most recent meeting, members of the committee
agreed on recommending establishment of minimum fines of $100,
$250 and $1,000, respectively, for the first, second and third
convictions. Maximum fines would be set at $250, $1,000 and
would have the authority to suspend all or part of any fine
except the minimum for a third conviction. A common practice is
to suspend imposition of a penalty in return for correcting the
violation within a stated period of time. The judges would not
be required to impose maximum fines. Being judged guilty of a
continuing violation would constitute a single conviction.
at the meeting revolved around providing both the magistrates
and code enforcers with flexibility to tailor their actions to
the specific circumstances of a given case while, at the same
time, giving them a 'hammer' to compel compliance.
As far as
can be determined, no one has ever been sent to jail for
violation of the housing code.
the Assembly will go along with the committee's penalty
recommendations is uncertain. At a previous meeting Valihura
raised the question of whether providing stiffer sanctions for
such offenses would be regarded as politically acceptable.
it was agreed at the most recent meeting that the committee's
effort was not futile since airing the issue has brought about a
new rapport between county code enforcement efforts and the
justice of the peace system.
Delaforum reported in November, an arrangement whereby all such
cases will be heard in Court No. 11 at Hares Corner on the
second and fourth Thursdays of each month goes into effect on a
pilot basis on Jan. 10. That is expected to provide consistency
in dealing with such cases.
recent newspaper article and editorial which she said gave
"an incomplete and somewhat misleading perspective,"
Chief Magistrate Patricia Griffin requested that the committee's
formal report specifically reflect that it "has not found
significant problems with the Justice of the Peace courts'
handling" of county code violations.
committee member dissented and Valihura agreed to do so.
"The report is not going to fix blame or find fault ... on
the part of the city [of Wilmington], county or the court
system," he said.
particularly noted that the case which primarily led to
formation of the committee -- a house in the Claymont area which
was and remains covered with ivy -- was not, as initially
presented, evidence that the magistrate courts do not take such
contrary, she said, county code enforcers never charged that
property owner with a violation because of the ivy overgrowth
and, in fact, such is evidently not a violation of the county
code. Megan D'Iorio, a county lawyer, agreed and indicated steps
will be taken to bring it into the purview of the code.
noted that the property owner in question was charged only with
violations relating to tall grass and inoperable motor vehicles.
"Fines were imposed and collected for these
violations," she reported.
committee agreed to recommend that the county review is property
codes to determine what additional conditions should be
also agreed to recommend that the county make more extensive use
of its power to correct code violations and to seek restitution
through civil court action and property liens.