Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series detailing the nuances of Ardmore’s Municipal Court System.

While there haven’t been any major changes in the way the City of Ardmore’s Municipal Court system works, a new judge has officially taken over.
Currently-serving Municipal Court Judge Julie Austin returned to Ardmore to practice law, but she wasn’t expecting to step up to the position she now occupies. While she has been able to help many who find their way into her courtroom, she said there is sometimes confusion about the differences between municipal and district court.
A graduate of Plainview High School, Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, Austin said she always knew she wanted to go to law school. She worked at a Tulsa firm before returning to Ardmore where she worked with two other firms before branching out on her own.
“I had never practiced criminal law,” Austin said. “I did some pro bono criminal law through law school through the interns clinic at OU, so that was really my only experience with it.”
While Austin began as a fill-in after the previous municipal judge resigned the position, she agreed to take on the role full-time after being exposed to a side of the city she had never previously experienced.
“It has altered my view about our city,” Austin said.
The city commission approved the contract at the end of June, Austin said. “The city manager has been wonderful,” Austin said, adding that she has been able to work with the city to realign the municipal court system.
“I didn’t understand the scope of the drug problem here,” Austin said. “It isn’t just here, it’s a nationwide epidemic. I would have never been exposed to that in my work as a civil attorney, not the way I do in city court.”
Austin said many smaller offenses come through the city court, including petit larceny and public intoxication.
“When I talk to people in my courtroom, and I feel like there are services that could have prevented that, like a mom who shoplifts diapers because they don’t have the money,” Austin said, “I take the opportunity to inform them about what’s out there. I feel like that’s part of my job. If I see someone who is having to commit crimes to get by, I feel like it’s my duty to inform them they don’t have to go down that road.”
Austin receives citations to appear in municipal court from city police officers, but also code enforcement and animal control officers.
“Whether it’s a dog at large or a traffic incident, I will get the ticket and any attached report and it goes on my docket automatically,” Austin said.
Municipal court is set for 8 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Anytime someone is given a citation, they’re automatically given a court date for one of those days. Austin said she receives her docket a week in advance and reviews each case.
“I feel like it’s necessary for me to be prepared so I know what’s coming up,” Austin said. “I go back and look at the ordinances. We’re a court not of record, meaning there’s no transcript and usually no formal orders issued.”
Austin said many don’t understand the difference between a guilty or a no contest plea before appearing in court.
“A plea of no contest means that if I were to review all the evidence, I would most likely find you guilty, but you’re not admitting guilt,” Austin said. “A plea of guilty is admitting guilt, you’re admitting to what you are accused of.”
“Everyone on my docket, I have already run a background check for, so I know their history,” Austin said. “I have a conversation with each and every one. Then I make a judgement call. It’s a case by case basis completely.”
Austin said she is always willing to set up a payment plan and work with the citizens who come into her court.
“If they don’t follow through on the payment plan, we issue a warning letter instructing them to contact the court clerk’s office.” Austin said adding that citizens are given time to make contact and discuss their arrangements long before a warrant is issued for failure to pay.
“It’s stated that your drivers license could be suspended,” Austin said. “If someone is having a problem or needs an extension, my court is open. They can come at any time and talk about whatever is going on.”
Austin said if someone pleads not guilty, she hold trials on Fridays. “I subpoena everyone involved and give everyone an opportunity to tell their side of the story,” Austin said. The outcome is the same if someone is found guilty or pleaded that way from the beginning--there is generally a fine and court costs may be assessed. Failure to complete the obligation as issued may lead to additional fees. “I will still try to work with citizens,” Austin said. “Some think we automatically issue a warrant. I would much rather work through that problem than issue a warrant. That is a last resort.”
Austin said she also sees those who have been arrested by APD. “I check to see if they have any pending issues with municipal or with district court,” Austin said. “I want to give everybody a fair shake.” Austin said she also works with the county sheriff and police chief if there are extenuating circumstances.
Austin’s courtroom is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. The city court clerk’s office is open during normal business hours at City Hall at 23 N. Washington.