On March 1, the city turned Housing Court over to the state-run Court of Common Pleas and to district judges who'd long craved its case load in hopes of preserving their jobs. Six months later, a court that was never perfectly sturdy seems downright rickety.Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto has proposed Housing Court Reform Bill No. 2005-1676 ( pdf here, html version here) to fix the problem. The bill is cosponsored by Councilmen Douglas Shields and Sala Udin.
Since the county took over the city's courts in January 2004, some 20,000 summons for housing, traffic and minor criminal violations have gone unprosecuted. In the same period, 5,000 fines for the same kinds of violations have gone unpaid or enforced. (The court could not break out the number that were housing-related.) A system in which district justices rotate into and out of Housing Court allows some property owners to string cases along from season to season.
The Bill notes that:
"...centralized independent housing court allows for more efficient Bureau of Building Inspection involvement in cases, and further allows for one magistrate to hear all Housing Court cases which will ensure that repeat offenders that cross magisterial districts are more easily tracked and identified."It calls for the following actions:
The bill is supported by such community groups as Community Technical Assistance Center (which aids neighborhood groups) and the Lawrenceville Stakeholders.
The Council of the City of Pittsburgh requests that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court change the Criminal Rules of Summary Procedure to allow for the scheduling of hearings in housing court, if a defendant does not enter a plea. Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas immediately begins to use the enforcement power of constables to serve warrants on those defendants that do not respond to Housing Court by entering a plea, and/or attend schedule Housing Court hearings, and/or pay fines ordered by the Court. Supports the Bureau of Building Inspection's proposed implementation of an automated code enforcement system and “real time” inspection results through the use of wirelesstechnology and calls on the Mayor to provide for full implementation of the plan through the City's operating and capital budget over the next five years.
A televised (CITY Channel - PCTV) Post Agenda Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, September 27th at 1:30 PM (usually rebroadcast in the evening).
If you believe that the bill is a good idea: contact your council member via the city website.
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