Houston creates new system for low-income residents to address late court fees

Judge Roberto Delagarza
Judge Roberto Delagarza is one of two municipal judges assigned to the Safe Harbor Court. (Courtesy HTV)

Judge Roberto Delagarza is one of two municipal judges assigned to the Safe Harbor Court. (Courtesy HTV)

Houston’s municipal court system will have two new judges tasked with helping financially burdened residents avoid escalating late fees on low-level citations.

“This program will give many people remove holds they have on receiving a driver’s license or vehicle registration and may very well be the last hurdle before getting a job, finishing college or technical school, avoid arrest and really give them a chance to move forward,” Turner said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and Presiding Municipal Judge Elaine Marshall announced the Safe Harbor Court on Oct. 23.

The city's municipal courts have over 100,000 cases in delinquent status dating back to 2008, Turner said. An estimated 33,000 of those cases may be able to be addressed by the new court.

Residents facing fines or fees will work with the court to find alternative methods of payment and, in some cases, avoid arrests or jail time. Two judges assigned to the court will also visit residents facing delinquent fines and set up community events to educate the public on the Safe Harbor program.

The program is part of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Complete Communities initiative and was also recommended by his policing reform task force.

“Studies have shown that an inability to afford the cost of court-imposed fines leads to the first arrest for many economically depressed people in the United States,” stated the report, which was released Sept. 30.

The court will operate Monday through Friday from 9 a.m-3 p.m. Judges will also visit those facing delinquent fines.

Previously, in 2019, Turner and Marshall established a special court for veterans.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


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