Judge 'quashed' thousands of warrants

Judge 'quashed' thousands of warrants

URBANA — Champaign County's presiding judge recently did some major new year's housecleaning.

In a 15-word order issued Jan. 5, Judge Tom Difanis "quashed," or set aside, 2,547 outstanding warrants for people who have unresolved city or village ordinance violations, some issued as long ago as 2001.

Difanis said he intended the move to lighten the load of the staff at the Champaign County Jail, who have to book those people once they are arrested.

His action, however, has left city legal staffers wondering what the alternatives are.

"I have no idea why all these are quashed," said Champaign City Attorney Fred Stavins.

The order also affects Urbana, Rantoul, Mahomet and other smaller county towns, but Champaign has the majority of ordinance violation cases prosecuted in the Champaign County court system.

Urbana City Attorney James Simon declined to answer questions but said in an email that the city "is looking into the matter and will address it as it deems appropriate and professional."

Stavins said when his staff seeks a warrant after multiple failures by a defendant to comply, they are doing what is allowed by Supreme Court rules.

"In each case, a judge issued a warrant for failure to appear. The city didn't do this on its own. The judges felt a warrant was appropriate," he said.

The move came as a surprise to Stavins and even to Sheriff Dan Walsh, who admitted that he frequently consults Difanis and State's Attorney Julia Rietz on ways to keep the jail population manageable.

Difanis called Friday's census of 136 "excellent." Walsh said that when he took office in December 2002, the number sometimes neared 300.

"Over the years, and also in the last months, we have had various discussions with the judiciary about ways to be more efficient and to save the county's dwindling revenues," Walsh said.

Recently, he and Chief Deputy Allen Jones took a look at how much time correctional officers spent booking ordinance violators.

"We found that between 2011 and the latter part of 2017, we processed 4,903 failure-to-appear or pay warrants for city ordinance violations. One individual had 16 such arrests during this period, and we had many with double-digit arrests for these matters," Walsh said.

"While we try to process these individuals quickly and get them back out, the county has the time and expense of this. We have to feed and provide medical and mental health care while they are here, albeit for a short time," said Walsh, who added that the county is liable if something bad happens to those folks while in custody.

700 bookings a year

From 2011 to 2017, there were an average of 700 bookings a year, at about 45 minutes to an hour per booking. Some were done for offenses such as public urination and noise violations that don't even allow jail as a punishment.

"In my opinion, many of these people have mental and physical health issues and minimal financial resources to pay ordinance fines and costs," Walsh said.

Difanis agreed that the number of repeat ordinance violation offenders was part of his reason for quashing the warrants.

"This list went on forever. These aren't the people who are going to pay anyway," said Difanis, who maintained he is most concerned about safety.

"We're trying what we can to allow correctional officers to concentrate on what's important in that facility, which is keeping the residents safe," he said.

"That booking area is like a triage area of an emergency room. Many of the people are there for mental health issues. These correctional officers have a lot to do."

Booking people for city ordinance violations, the judge said, is simply a lower priority.

"I just don't think it's necessary at this point," Difanis said.

Stavins said city ordinance violations provide "a lower-impact method of preserving order in the community" by giving police an alternative to arresting someone for a crime that could be a misdemeanor in state court.

He noted that over the years, the city has kept thousands of cases out of court by allowing violators to pay a fine so that a case is never filed.

"We have been providing this option of diverting cases since 1988, when we originated this system to save court time and impact on that system, and to provide defendants a chance to avert a court record," Stavins said.

Stavins: No warning

The quashing of the warrants is not the same as dismissing the cases. It simply removes the mechanism to force people to court by arrest. The decision to dismiss the open cases would be up to each of the cities or villages.

Difanis said he instructed his city court associate judges — Anna Benjamin and John Kennedy — to use their judgment when it comes to issuing warrants for failure to appear. He asked that they reserve warrants for people who threaten public safety, like the owner of a vicious dog running at large or the owner of a building with code violations that make it unsafe to be in.

Stavins said that if Walsh had a concern about the high number of ordinance violators being booked, he should have called his office or spoken to police Chief Anthony Cobb. That didn't happen in advance of Difanis' order.

"We cooperate with the county on many different levels," he said, adding that "we can always be better at what we're doing."

Stavins said he sent Difanis a note asking to meet with him about how his staff should go forward.

"We're trying to formulate some ideas about how to proceed," he said.

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Phil S wrote on January 15, 2018 at 7:01 am

Thank you Judge Difanis for doing the right thing for a change.  It goes to show that even a broken clock is correct twice a day.

rsp wrote on January 15, 2018 at 8:01 am

An example. I know of someone who was given two tickets for his dogs not having their shots. With court cost included he owes over $800. Is that helping the dogs or increasing city coffers? Why isn't in this situation someone given thirty days to comply before being fined? That would help the dogs. This fine takes away from his child.

There are no provisions for those who don't have any money. Its turned the court system into a debtors prison. I know of one person who was arrested and they took $1.65 from him. It was all he had.

Roanrider wrote on January 17, 2018 at 9:01 am

If you can't pay for veterinary care, you shouldn't have animals. Period. End of story.

rsp wrote on January 18, 2018 at 12:01 am

So the animal shelters should get inundated with beloved pets and put them all down because people may have trouble getting the shots on time? Isn't that why they have the spay and neuter clinics at reduced costs, so people can get their pets taken care of? Maybe not everyone knows about it or couldn't get in. 

In some communities they have health fairs for pets, where they set up for the day and for free you can get medical care for your pet. Shots, spayed or neutered, even other kinds of surgery can be performed. Pets are good for people and can help prevent depression. Some low income people have dogs because they are working dogs, providing assistance with a disability. They may also struggle with the costs of veterinary care. Should they lose their dogs?

rsp wrote on January 18, 2018 at 12:01 am

captcha bug

JohnRalphio wrote on January 15, 2018 at 9:01 am

Yeah, this seems like a completely sensible choice on the part of Judge Difanis.

Local Yocal wrote on January 15, 2018 at 9:01 am
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This using the county jail as leverage to force paying the exhorbinant court costs and fines has gone on long enough. Amazing it wasn't thought of sooner and why Sheriff Walsh didn't propose it during closing-of-the-downtown jail discussions. This is one of the most insidious practices of the criminal justice system designed only to extract money from the poor. These bench warrants linger in the digital world forever and people can be picked up on charges that happened years ago. City tickets should have meaningful punishments like community service work. Instead, the cities have police chasing down every one who owes money and throwing them in the jail until they get their revenue stream. The News-Gazette should publish how much is collected per year. 

Bystander wrote on January 17, 2018 at 7:01 am
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How would you enforce the community service, Yodler? People don't like to work for free and thus, don't show up for their community service. Without jailing the community service wouldn't get done. The City courts need some teeth to their city fines and court costs. What is the City supposed to do now? Bomb the defendants with mailed notices they have an outstanding fines to pay?

Bystander wrote on January 17, 2018 at 7:01 am
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cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on January 15, 2018 at 9:01 am

Why should I get my dog shots at all?  No need to register my dog either.  You cannot collect the fine. You can fine me, but not collect the fine.  Perfect.  I dont pay to get the dog shots, the vet does not  get paid to give the shots and my dog is a walking disease infested animal  ( or the potential to be)  perfect.


Everyone one wins.


Now... let me go drink with an open container in downtown.  Not against State law.  Nor can you fine me for having my yard look like a dump.  Not against state law..................so.............. my yard looks like a dump, the neighbors complain and the City just goes.......... welll................ nothing we can do.  Let me put a couch in my front yard............. cant regulate that now can we.. not against State law.


Now who is going to make up the City shortfall in revenue or what departments are going to be cut back?  Social Services?  Public works?  Fire?  Police?  


Perfect.  Get government out of peoples business.  If its not State law, then there is no reason to have the law.   Lots of snow this week.  Remind me again why I should clear my sidewalk.   You cannot fine me if I do not.


In the mean time, why not go get rid of civil warrants?  You owe money to someone that you cannot pay and wham./.......... you are in jail until you pay.  Get rid of those.  You owe money to someone for damages etc.  Well... a stern talking to and you will get your money back.


Finally .. that 30 dollar coat you steal from Kohls?  Before it was a city charge.  Now its retail theft............. which means booking the suspect into jail............ which means that the SA office will have more work to do and the jail population will go up.



rsp wrote on January 15, 2018 at 10:01 am

You go steal from Kohl's and they are going to arrest you, not give you a little ticket. That's possible prison time.

You want your yard to look like a dump? If the city tells you to clean it up and you don't eventually they will. If you don't pay the costs they will put a lien on it to make sure you do. They can force a sale of the property to get their money.

If there is a finacial barrier to people getting their pets vaccinated, deal with that issue but you don't fix it by fining people almost grand. People have lost jobs by being repeatedly arrested to pay fines they cannot afford. All to raise money for the city that doesn't want to be honest and raise taxes in the open.

Nobody is asked what their income is. There is no alternative such as community service work instead of money.

Kohl's has coats for $30??

cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on January 15, 2018 at 11:01 am

Whoops  your wrong.......... here is a link to a Kohls ad today..




. I accept your apology.... So then the person who goes to jail on a retail state charge gets released from jail the next day.  An ROR is issued to them.  They then FTA.  Does Judge Difanis no longer sign FTA warrants?  So basically if you have no means to pay yet commit crimes, you get a free pass.  Perfect.

.  What about civil cases?  those people do not have the money to pay and its now a debtor prison................................. you want that?  Yet warrants are issued every day for civil charges.  Is he going to quash those warrants?  How will the victims who are owed money feel about that?  Who pays for their damages or do we just tell them to suck it up and move on.


There is a woman who is arrested weekly on state charges of criminal tresspass to property.  Her initals are EH.  She has been charged with state charges every week.  Judge Difanis is well versed as to her problems.  What is the solution?  The folks who call want her gone, the police have no choice but to do something with her and jail is the option.  Is Judge Difanis then going to tell the complaintant that we will no longer pick her up?


Lots of questions and very little answers.

rsp wrote on January 15, 2018 at 5:01 pm

Those are jackets, not coats. Not the same thing. You go into a store with the intent to steal that's a burglary charge, plus retail theft. Nobody has ever received an OV ticket for shoplifting. A repeat offender can also be charged with trespassing. And no, they don't get automatically released the next day. Some sit for quite a while before they make bail or resolve their cases.

You would think being a former cop you would have more integrity and not keep making things up. And no, I didn't apologize.

You get a state charge, if you get out on bail and fail to appear, you've violated the terms of your bail. They revoke your bail for that. You go back to jail.

Civil cases have limits on assets that creditors can come after. There are protections for the poor. There are also protections for the creditor, where they can find out your assets and go after them. That includes seizing property and bank accounts, tax refunds, etc. But there are limits to prevent people from being destitute.

You bring up a woman who was arrested all of four times last year and claim she is arrested weekly. I know her, so to speak. It's interesting you say "we" when you no long do that. Don't you mean "they"?

She's mentally ill. We don't lock people up because they are ill. That's just as sick as the attics of yesteryear.

Thewatcher wrote on January 17, 2018 at 7:01 am

You're wrong about the shoplifting OV's.  Tons of people have gotten city tickets for those.  They aren't exactly titled shoplifting, it's always called retail theft, but it's the same thing.

Khristine wrote on January 15, 2018 at 2:01 pm
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It’s not just dogs, it’s cats too. Please explain to me why I need to register an indoor, neutered or spayed cat who never leaves my house. It’s suppose to be an annual registration. That’s ridiculous! My take...come and catch me copper. You’ll never take me alive. You’ll take my cat from my cold dead hands. And you can kiss that stupid registration fee away too. Jus’ sayin’. 

rsp wrote on January 15, 2018 at 5:01 pm

If you get a mouse in your house it could infect your cat. Or your cat could slip out the door accidently. My cat was only kept inside and he saw all the squirrels from the window. He had never shown an interest in going out. One day we were leaving and he darted out. Scared him to death. He wasn't used to the open space.

You also have the issue of liability if your cat bites someone or scratches them. I know, it's never happened. Wait till you have to call 911 and all these strangers are in the house, flashing lights, cat knows something's wrong.

JamBam wrote on January 15, 2018 at 2:01 pm

Sounds like the city is going to be out even more money (which they'll get back by raising taxes on non-law breakers).

The cops write alot of city ordinance violation tickets (alcohol, marijuana, noise violations, tinted windows, parking tickets, etc).   They have an entire racket for Non-Official St Patrick's Day.  All those drinking tickets are city ordinance tickets.  If you can no longer be compelled (by threat of arrest) to appear in court to face the charges (i.e. pay your fine), then why would anyone go to court?  This quashing of city warrants is basically saying a city ordinance ticket is meaningless.  Go on with your life. They can't ever get your money.  I guess the only thing left to do on these city tickets is to set a court date.  If the person doesn't show up, they are guilty and fined.  And then the city can sell those debts to a bill collector for pennies on the $$$...and the ordinance violator will at least have poor credit (which most probably already do anyway if they got in trouble to begin with).


Silence Dogood II wrote on January 15, 2018 at 2:01 pm

Man y’all, quit having a coronary. The cases are not dismissed, the warrants have just been quashed. Jail time was just not much of a deterrent for these individuals anyway.. it just means alternative methods should be sought, kinda like child support and driver licenses. Even though failure to pay CS in no way measures a person’s ability to drive safely, they’ll still suspend your license for failure to pay. Guess it’s time to get creative. 

cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on January 15, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh except are when are the SJW going to start screaming that we cannot suspend the DL for drivers who "forget" to pay their city charge.  Remember............ these criminals are violating a court order.   Try telling a Judge off in court.  See if he "forgets" to put you in jail for a few weeks. There are 102 counties in Illinois.  We are the only ones doing this.


I guess we are lucky that the Judge in Champaign County is smarter than the rest of the state.


Yes you can turn the case over to civil court......................which will then order a warrant for FTA.  Whooooooops.

rsp wrote on January 15, 2018 at 5:01 pm

We are not the only county doing this. And no you can't just turn it over to civil court. These are fines.

Mr Dreamy wrote on January 15, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Here’s a solution. Re-establish city court. City cases go to city court, state cases go to state court, and federal cases go to federal court.

The city (of Champaign, anyway) has a nice big room to use right on site, and the city has it’s own lockup.

Let the city deal with its own problems.

cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on January 15, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Except of course you are wrong.


Judges are hired by the 6th Judicial circuit.


Not by the city.


City has not had a lockup since their last in custody death 15 yrs ago.


But lets see how the other 101 counties deal with the problem of ordiance violations ..no fishing license? Use to be a warrant................

no more.

JamBam wrote on January 15, 2018 at 4:01 pm

I think the threat of arrest compels many people to pay.   Taking away the threat of arrest will mean those won't pay.  Simple as that.  

Fishing without a license?  Yeah game warden write me a ticket.  See if I show up to pay that fine.  Really the only recourse now will as I said above is to put those debts on a credit report.  

This is just a dumb idea to take away one of the ways the police can compel people to pay debts - using warrants.  Even then, it's police discretion.  Many police will follow up with people on city warrants, and NOT arrest them but say "look you need to pay this, otherwise when I check back in with you a month I will arrest you".  Now, they can't do that anymore.

And the $$$ that the city loses on this policy will be got in other ways - mainly raising taxes on those that don't break the law or have warrants in the first place.

rsp wrote on January 15, 2018 at 5:01 pm

It's to compel people to pay fines, not debts. It doesn't matter if you have no money. They will make you come back to court every month or agree to a payment plan that you can't pay. Miss a payment and they have you arrested or pulled into court again. People stop showing up because it's harassing. So then they get arrested.

And it's not police discretion. A warrant is a warrant. They pick people up and process them. Telling them to go in and make a payment doesn't quash a warrant. These are tickets given to people who the court knows can't pay, are mentally ill in many cases. It's not cases of people who have money and they just don't want to pay.

cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on January 15, 2018 at 5:01 pm




Those are jackets, not coats. Not the same thing. You go into a store with the intent to steal that's a burglary charge, plus retail theft. Nobody has ever received an OV ticket for shoplifting.




REALLY   YOU ARE 100 PERCENT sure that NO ONE has EVER been issued a city nta for retail theft


Your having a bad day with your data  ... anything else you want to be 100 percent sure of?


Here is a CPD from last week from................................ KOHLS.


At what point do you want to admit your wrong?



Mr Dreamy wrote on January 15, 2018 at 6:01 pm

The Judges aren’t hired by the 6th Judicial Circuit. The voters, the citizens, hire the Circuit Judges. The Circuit Judges hire Associate Judges.

CPD has a lockup. I’ve seen it, but not from inside.

I said “re-establish”, you knucklehead. I know city courts were abolished.

YOU are wrong. I have read your comments before, and you are nothing but an unknowing flame thrower making stuff up.

KlaatuSansGort wrote on January 15, 2018 at 6:01 pm

Reading this article might break even the hardest of hearts that would hold the Rule of Law ever dear.

"What a Sad Mess."

Silence Dogood II wrote on January 16, 2018 at 7:01 am

Loosely quoted, “No one gets ordinance violations for shoplifting.” Okay, 2014OV884. If I knew it would matter at all, I could find shoplifting OV violations all day at the circuit clerk website. 

Khristine wrote on January 16, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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It’s government overreach on a local level and the intent is to raise revenue. Typically,  ticketing and fining people for what are moral or societal misbehaviors and not criminal law. It’s less expensive to either pay the ticket and make it go away or ignore it and hope the police have better things to do than worry about arresting you. The alternative is to hire an attorney, at your own cost, and fight the ticket if you believe it is unjustified. That’s more of a cost than most would care to have. So, the city gets a revenue stream that is completely unchecked by the state or federal government until you defy it and clog the jail because your cat got out of the door to chase a squirrel. 

We live surrounded by farms that have dozens of barn cats and farm dogs, many of which never see a vet or are vaccinated. These animals are outside the city limits and are therefore outside these ordinances. I’ve yet to hear of any issues with these animals, unlike my house cats. 

Maybe the cities need to take a look at their ordinances and trim them up a bit. That would eliminate this need to issue warrants for, and need to arrest, people who otherwise aren’t any threat to our society other than they believe some civil disobedience is a good thing. 

cwakefld wrote on January 16, 2018 at 3:01 pm

It would appear that the vast majority of commenters lack a complete understanding of the totality of the circumstances surrounding this decision.

cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on January 16, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Explain to me again or for the first time, how OV violations are racist Craig.

cwakefld wrote on January 16, 2018 at 6:01 pm

That might be a response to something, but not anything I wrote.

Citizen1 wrote on January 16, 2018 at 5:01 pm

I believe I understand the totality of the situation.  I also understand the equal protections clause of the US constitution.  Either get rid of the ordinances or enforce them equally.  To not do one or the other makes the rule of law a joke. Chaos anyone?

cwakefld wrote on January 16, 2018 at 6:01 pm


Pointblank wrote on January 17, 2018 at 6:01 am
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Scanning the booking photos published on this website, 90% of bookings into the county jail because of Ordinance Violations were against African American males. 

Bystander wrote on January 17, 2018 at 7:01 am
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So African American males were found to be the most frequently negligent in paying their fines. Seems they self-selected themselves to be picked up on a warrant. 

CommonSenseless wrote on January 17, 2018 at 7:01 am

No...Wait...That can't be right.  They had to have been mistreated by a systemically oppressive institution conjured up by Donald Trump in order to align with my rage as a SJW.