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Judge stops Wabasha Co. driver diversion program

  • Associated Press
  • January 6, 2014 - 7:00 PM

WABASHA, Minn. — A judge on Monday blocked Wabasha County from continuing its driver diversion program, a system used in cities and counties across Minnesota.

District Judge James A. Fabian ruled that the program is not authorized under Minnesota law and ordered Wabasha County to stop using it.

Such programs give motorists the option of enrolling in a safe-driving class instead of paying a ticket for a violation. The classes generally cost less than a ticket and the violation doesn't go on drivers' records.

Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsh told The Associated Press Monday the county will stop the program, as the judge ordered.

"We're really disappointed. We certainly felt we were in the right doing what we were doing," Bartsh said.

Wabasha County has put 4,500 motorists through its program since 2003. The southeastern Minnesota county has collected about $450,000 in revenue since starting the program. The sheriff said the county is seeing fewer traffic violators.

"We're seeing a lot of people slowing down and we think generally that's going to make our county safer. And that's the bottom line for us," Bartsh said.

But the judge agreed with the plaintiffs that the program isn't authorized under state law and granted an injunction blocking it.

Plaintiffs' attorney Erick Kaardal said in a statement, "It took ordinary citizens to show extraordinary courage to fight law enforcement officials — including the County Attorney's Office — to stop them from breaking the law."

The Wabasha County attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday. The county had argued the program was allowed under the county attorney's prosecutorial discretion.

In November, State Auditor Rebecca Otto said driver diversion programs are illegal in Minnesota, and Attorney General Lori Swanson agreed with that assessment. More than 35 such programs operate in cities and counties around the state.

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