Meanwhile, state Representative Robert Valihura said he will
complete the drafting of proposed state legislation which will
specify penalties for first-time and increasingly stiff ones for
repeat violators, including jail terms of up to 30 days for
persons with multiple convictions for the same offense who show
no intent to remedy the illegal situation for which they were
approach would be for the county to correct the offensive
conditions and bill the property owner for the cost of doing so.
If the bill were not paid, the county could seek a judgment in
Court of Chancery. The county also could bring charges on Court
of Common Pleas, which has broader jurisdiction and ability to
impose tougher sanctions than justice of the peace courts.
options were discussed on Oct. 19 at a meeting of the committee
authorized by the General Assembly to study what can be done to
remedy the county's apparent inability to enforce its laws
covering the condition of properties. The issue was raised when
Delaforum reported on a case in which a Claymont property owner
allegedly ignored several fines and continued to maintain his
residence in an unkempt condition.
report to the committee responding to a request to review that
and a similar case, Chief Magistrate Patricia Griffin said that
fines that have been levied have either been paid in full or are
in the process of being paid. County Councilman Robert Weiner,
who initially raised the issue, said that her report did not
address the numerous continuances and suspended fines in the
difficulty, Griffin said, is that each time the defendants have
been in court they were formerly charged with only a single
day's violation rather than continuing violations. The courts
must deal with the specifics of the cases before them, she said
and recommended that guidelines be established to determine how
often and in what time period an inspector must see the same
conditions in order to charge a continuous violation.
other hand, she recommended that nothing be done to limit
magistrates' ability to suspend sentences. "Conditional
suspension of fines, in the cases examined, have been used in
attempts to coerce defendants into compliance," she said.
who chairs the committee, said that it is questionable whether
county officials "have the political will" to seek drastic
penalties, such as jail time, in most cases. "Do we really want
to send somebody to jail for not cutting their grass?" he said,
adding that the law and procedures should be geared toward
remedying unwanted situations. "What we really want is for the
violation to be corrected," he said.
state law to eliminate the existing conflict with county law --
the county code provides for jail sentences for repeat
violations while the state does not empower justices of the
peace to do more than impose a fine of up to $1,000 for that
kind of offense -- will have the effect of giving magistrates
specific guidelines based on how frequently a defendant is
brought into court on the same charges, he said.
being told that the city of Wilmington handles all its property
code violations in the same court -- primarily because there is
only one justice of the peace court in the city -- and assigns a
lawyer in the city solicitor's office responsibility for
prosecuting those cases, the committee reached a consensus that
there is a measure of consistency inherent in such an
arrangement. In the city, such cases are tried at the same time
on the same day of the week so that, for that period of time,
the court is, in effect, a housing-law court.
report said that, in the fiscal year ended June 30, six justice
of the peace courts handled 458 county code violations while
four handled 2,408 city code violations. Of the latter, 2,241
were handled in Court No. 20.
of the county would preclude hearing the cases in a single
court, but Griffin agreed that it might be possible to use just
two courts to the same end. She recommended, however, that the
county adopt a policy of having one of its lawyers prosecute all
cases that go to trial. At present, lawyers handled only the
major ones; county code enforcement officers do the rest.
Acting county attorney Eric Episcopo
said the county's objective is consistency in applying sanctions
for code violations and that consolidation would in all
likelihood do that.