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Myrtle Beach cuts court for motorcycle helmet hearings

April 10, 2009

Myrtle Beach cuts court for motorcycle helmet hearings

Change may save money for the city

Myrtle Beach is scrapping the administrative hearing process it set up to deal with such civil infractions as the new motorcycle helmet law.

Those infractions will now be heard in municipal court.

City Manager Tom Leath said the change will probably save the city money, in that the two hearings officers it had hired will not be needed. The city had planned to pay them $125 an hour and anticipated they would work six to eight hours a month.

Because they are infractions and not misdemeanors, the court does not have to assess fees that can double criminal court fines, so people found guilty will still simply pay the city’s $100 fine, Leath said. The city made its decision Monday morning in the wake of the state Supreme Court’s memo about administrative hearing courts. On March 23, Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal addressed a letter to city and county leaders across the state saying the administrative hearings courts set up to deal with smoking bans and other infractions were unconstitutional.

Myrtle Beach planned to use its hearings process to deal with citations given when people violate the city’s new motorcycle helmet ordinance, its new juvenile curfew and other rules approved last fall in an effort to curb the motorcycle rallies that draw about 500,000 people to the Grand Strand each May.

City spokesman Mark Kruea said the city council will likely retract the ordinance regarding the administrative hearing process at its next meeting, a week from today.

Dozens of motorcyclists who rode through the city helmetless in protest on Feb. 28, the day the helmet ordinance became effective, were the first to be ticketed and were scheduled to appear in the administrative hearings court starting April 21. Those appearances will now be rescheduled until later in the spring or summer, the city manager said.

Tom McGrath, the Virginia attorney who is representing 49 of the nearly 60 people ticketed during the Freedom Ride, said he’s sure his clients will appeal if they are convicted of the infractions.

He also represents William and Carol O’Day, a Myrtle Beach couple who own motels and ride motorcycles, in their lawsuit against the city. McGrath had asked the 15th Circuit Court to prohibit the city from the administrative court process, but the judge declined to issue such an order. He said he thinks the city is doing the right thing in setting aside the hearing process.

Leath said the police department will re-issue the 100 citations given as of Monday as ordinance summons. Gail Moyer, assistant to the city attorney, said not all citations given so far were for helmet violations. Some were for parties in parking lots – another of the newer ordinances. The violations remain civil infractions that do not carry criminal penalties.

City Council members could choose to turn them into misdemeanors, but Leath said he and other city staff members see no reason to do so.

Now that the infractions are being written up as ordinance summons, they become part of each issuing police officer’s regular court load, and Leath said the city court shouldn’t have any trouble absorbing them.

“There are not enough to make a big impact on the court,” he said.

Contact LORENA ANDERSON at 444-1722.
One Comment leave one →
  1. BlueRain permalink
    April 10, 2009 7:45 pm

    Sounds like the folks in MB are kind of running around in circles a little bit these days.

    Thank you for keeping us up to speed.

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