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The first Community Court session in Dakota County was held October 2002 at the Northern Service Center in West St. Paul. Community Court was established by Judge Leslie M. Metzen to offer a speedier, more efficient resolution to certain established liveability issues involving the cities of West St. Paul, South St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights.
Prior to starting a Community Court in Dakota County, several meetings with community members and local law enforcement took place. It was determined that problem properties-ordinance violations, and property offenses would be well suited for Community Court.
The goal of a Community Court is to involve community members in addressing these issues; make sentencing more relevant to the offense; target quality of life crimes that impact the community; hold offenders accountable to the victim and community; and to reduce the tendency to repeat the offense.
While property offenses and property ordinance violations are not new to Dakota County, the way the courts handles them through Community Court is a change. Homeowners can be put directly in contact with city officials for information about low-interest loans or other programs.
"There was a sense that, in the grand scheme of the hierarchy of criminal offenses, judges weren't taking these cases seriously enough," Metzen said. "We imposed a small fine and sent them [homeowners] away. We weren't having much of an impact."
An important principle of Community Court is judicial monitoring. The judge stays involved in monitoring the progress of these offenses and reviews compliance of offenders.
Homeowners ordered to appear before Community Court have been cited by city inspectors — often repeatedly, sometimes more than a year ago — for dilapidated roofs, foundations or garages, peeling paint, storing junk cars or unkempt property in violation of various city ordinances.
Community member volunteers will be crucial to the success of Community Court. Volunteers are needed to work with code enforcement officers, neighbors, and owners of properties that need clean up and repair. Volunteers will help owners find assistance; mediate relationships with neighbors; and support the homeowner in their attempts to clean up their property.
Community Court is scheduled the first Thursday of every month at the Northern Service Center in West St. Paul.