Last week, Perry County residents with bench warrants or failures to appear (FTAs) were able to seek free help for one day, courtesy of an event held by the Perry County District Court. On Friday, Nov. 12, Perry County District Judge Cody Goehring, along with the Perry County Attorney’s Office and local attorneys, teamed up to host Perry County’s first-ever “Jail-Free Friday” event.
During this event, persons with bench warrants or FTA’s in Perry District Court were able to contact participating private attorneys for help with their legal matters. Participating attorneys volunteered their time and services to represent local residents who had warrants for free (on Nov. 12 only) in an effort to assist them in getting their old or new bench warrants recalled on that day. All Perry District cases were eligible for consideration, including, but not limited to: child support; unpaid restitution, fines, fees and costs; arrest warrants; and FTA warrants.
The event, said, Perry County District Judge Cody Goehring, was successful and helped several people within the community.
“We had originally thought of the idea of a Jail-Free Friday before the pandemic, specifically we were meeting as part of the Perry County Bar Association meetings and we were wanting to do something for Law Day,” said Goehring. This, he said, was around two and a half years ago when they first discussed it, and one of the concerns volunteers had then were with warrants in other counties. The pandemic caused the idea to be put on a shelf for a while, but then allowed them to do it virtually which helped with their concerns, he said.
The event, said Goehring, offered several benefits.
“As somebody who has served as a public defender and been representing people with these types of warrants at the same time now being a judge and seeing it from the other perspective, I feel there are a lot of people out there that have relatively minor issues that they let become bigger issues,” said Goehring. “This kind of allows them to take care of business in a way that isn’t as scary as it may seem,” he said. “Yes it’s true these people should have done something differently in the past. This was simply an opportunity to try and make it right and kind of give them a new start.”
The event, he said, not only helped the individuals involved who were seeking legal help, but also the attorneys and the community at large.
“The Public Defender’s Office is overworked, we don’t want just everybody coming to the Public Defender’s Office about every legal issue they have. It allows some of the private attorneys in the Perry County Bar to give back to the community,” said Goehring, explaining that events like this takes cases off the shoulders of the Public Defender’s Office and allows people to be represented by a local private attorney which supports local businesses, and volunteering services helps advertise their businesses.
“You have back-log of the courts, you have these cases that are just sitting there open,” Goehring said, adding that some of the warrants were more than 10 years old. “Now you have someone who has made a payment, has got back into the system and has another court date scheduled, has promised to resume making payments without the warrant being in place. They now have a strong incentive and motivation to make those payments regularly going forward.
“In my opinion, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages,” said Goehring.
“We had several attorneys show up who participated,” said Goehring. “Some of them had just one or two, some of them had five or six and the Public Defender’s Office had 15 or 20.”
Participating attorneys included: Attorney Karen Alfano; Denise M. Davidson and Associates, PSC; John R. Hansen, Attorney at Law; Holliday Law Office; Hopfensperger Law Office; Kevin W. Johnson, Attorney at Law; Jeffrey R. Morgan and Associates; Attorney Emily Faith Wetmore; and Wilder Law Firm.
“Some people had more than one case and some people showed up and they weren’t on the docket,” said Goehring. During the event, he said, they had approximately 60 cases in total.
Goehring said the court did have some issues with Zoom temporarily where they could not hear some of the defendants but the issue resolved itself throughout the day.
“That was difficult and kind of slowed us down a little bit, but everything appeared to be fine,” said Goehring. “For everybody that showed up, basically we took care of their case or handled their issue. It seemed to go pretty smoothly for the attorneys.”
With the success of the event and the numerous benefits coming from it, Goehring said he will be holding more events like this in the future, but it will most likely only be held once a year.
“I think I will try to do it in the future,” said Goehring.
“What I don’t want to happen is people say ‘Well, I don’t have to show up to court I’ll just show up on one of those Jail-Free Fridays, they do those at the end of the month so I don’t have to show up’ kind of thing. I don’t want it to create a system where people are less likely to appear in court because they see appearance as no big deal or a bench warrant as no big deal, and if somebody has a warrant I want them to take care of it quickly by calling an attorney,” Goehring said. “I will probably do it again but it will probably be a while before I do another one, It’ll kind of be a once a year type of thing.”