Courts FAQ 2

May a municipal judge or circuit court judge impose a forfeiture in a municipal ordinance case that is less than the minimum forfeiture established by the applicable ordinance?

No. This issue was addressed by the Wisconsin court of appeals in Village of Sister Bay v. Hockers, 106 Wis. 2d 474, 317 N.W.2d 505 (Ct. App. 1982). In that case, a circuit court assessed a $1000 forfeiture against defendants in a zoning ordinance violation case, which would be reduced to $500 if the defendant removed the violations by a specific date. The minimum forfeiture due under the ordinance was $10 for each day of violation. The undisputed evidence at trial showed that the violations existed for 778 days, for a total forfeiture due of $7,880. The trial court nonetheless imposed a forfeiture of $1000 based on a finding of 100 days violation (a finding in direct conflict with the evidence) and ordered a further reduction to $500 if the defendants removed the violations by a specific date. The court of appeals held that the trial court had no power to assess less than the minimum forfeiture established by the local government’s legislative body. This means that if the minimum fine or forfeiture for a parking violation is ten dollars, a municipal judge cannot impose a forfeiture of one dollar if he or she determines that the person is guilty of the violation. Likewise, if the minimum forfeiture or fine for a zoning code violation is twenty-five dollars and the violation is proved to have existed for a period of thirty days, the municipal judge does not have authority to impose a forfeiture of less than seven-hundred-fifty dollars where the zoning code clearly establishes that each day of violation is a separate violation, even if the defendant agrees to correct the violation by a specific date.