In the latest installment of our conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Chief Judge Danny Rodgers, discusses Fort Worth’s warrant forgiveness program, and how it can help dissolve some stress in the new year.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For a longer version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article

Rachel Behrndt: Please start by describing what the warrant forgiveness program is and some of its goals that it’s looking to accomplish.

Danny Rodgers: Let me give you a little background. Courts across the state of Texas for several years, I don’t even know how many, have done a program that they call Warrant Round Up. It’s typically done in the early part of the calendar year, February, March, and the emphasis was on making publicity for people to come in and deal with their tickets. In 2018, we looked at that and just didn’t feel like the idea of ‘Roundup’ was the best way to go about that. So we came up with a warrant forgiveness program. 

So the purpose of warrant forgiveness was to demystify the court. People, for lots of reasons, are fearful of coming to court. Perhaps they don’t want to come downtown or they don’t really understand the ticket. They don’t really understand the process. Some people are obviously, pretty much anyone would be afraid of getting arrested. Those sorts of things.

So we wanted to demystify it for people to understand that this is just a Class C misdemeanor, the lowest level of offense. We wanted to go out to where the people were. Rather than requiring people to come downtown to the courthouse. We wanted to go out to them. So, about that same time in 2017, the Legislature made some modifications to the law, which gave the court more freedom and more discretion about waiving what are called fines and fees. The warrant forgiveness program is targeted at talking to people, getting them to come see us, going out to where they are, making it easy for them to come and then being able to lift off some of those fines and fees. 

Specifically, the statute gives us the discretion to do certain things under certain circumstances. So we were looking more at warrant fees and collection fees. You can have a ticket, and say it was $200 if you just walked in and paid it. With warrant fees and collection fees you can add another 30 or 35% on top of that. A lot of people get a ticket, they just go pay it and they’re done. But a lot of people also can’t afford it and so it was really targeted more at folks that for whatever reason haven’t taken care of their tickets. We wanted them to feel safe about coming in and talking to us and then figuring out a way to help them deal with the ticket. So our goals were to demystify the court. 

Our goals were to get out of the downtown courthouse and out of our courthouse in southwest Fort Worth and go out into the community around the city of Fort Worth to where they are, maybe somewhere that’s more comfortable for them to come. Where there’s a city rec center or city library. We’ve been in churches before, places they’re perhaps more comfortable than they would be coming downtown.

So those are all of our goals, we’re going to help people deal with their tickets and to help people not have to live under the burden of having a warrant. A warrant can prevent someone from getting or renewing their driver’s license. A warrant can prevent someone from renewing that driver’s license, which is a government ID. Typically now, if you want to rent an apartment you have to show ID and typically that’s your driver’s license. It can prevent them from renewing the registration on their car. It can prevent them from being able to rent a place with their family, or prevent someone from getting a job. Again, Class C misdemeanors, I don’t think were ever intended to be that burdensome. 

Rachel Behrndt: For someone who may not be familiar, can you describe what a Class C misdemeanor might be? What kind of offense or would that look like in sort of layman’s terms?

Danny Rodgers: The laws in the state of Texas are you have two general classifications of criminal violations, you have misdemeanor and you have a felony. Felonies are the serious and misdemeanor are the less serious. In misdemeanors you have three different levels. We have Class A, Class B and Class C. Class A being more serious than Class B and Class B being more serious than Class C. 

Class C is defined by the Legislature as a fine-only offense. What it means is that it’s not the intention of the Legislature that anyone faces a possible jail sentence for receiving a Class C violation. But their intent is that the worst possible thing that would happen to a person is they would have to pay a fine. That’s what a Class C violation is. If you look at the stats and the numbers, probably more people encounter the criminal justice system through a Class C than everything else combined. 

There are more municipal judges across the state than all of the other judges the other levels of judges combined. More Class Cs floating around then there are all the other criminal violations. Class C can be code violations. They can be, you left the trash cart out too long, or you put your trash cart out too early. But for the most part they’re traffic violations. 

Rachel Behrndt: On the page that gives more information about warrant forgiveness, it describes the Fort Worth Municipal Court as a safe harbor court, and I’m wondering if you could define what that means.

Danny Rodgers: What that means is that a person with a certain warrant can walk into a courtroom and talk to the judge, and as long as they make a good faith effort to resolve the case, even if there was a warrant on that ticket, we’re not going to arrest them. They can walk in safely knowing they can come in, talk to a judge, talk about options and as I said, make a good faith effort, and they’re not going to be arrested. The hope is that that will encourage people to come in and talk with us.

If I had $1 for every time I’ve said: ‘Please come talk to us, we can probably take care of a lot of concerns. That  kind of seems to be the barrier, as there’s a certain number of people that just don’t come see us. And then the ticket gets old and then the ticket turns into a warrant, then they don’t know what to do and then they’re frightened. So it shouldn’t ever get that way but it does. So safe harbor is they can walk in and be assured they’re not going to be arrested on a Class C warrant for a ticket.

Rachel Behrndt: How can somebody participate in the warrant forgiveness? I know you mentioned that you make an effort to sort of get out into the community, but how can people participate if they’re interested?

Danny Rodgers: This year we did, like, 10 separate events. But  it doesn’t have to be at an event. We have the power and authority, our judges have the power and authority, to waive those warrant fees, collection fees and even waive the entire thing if the case warrants it. Part of what we’re required to do if we make a finding of guilt … we’re required by law to inquire about how they can handle that. What’s the best way to handle that? What can you afford to do? Those sorts of things.

And they can always ask, to waive the warrant fees and the collection fees. It is not automatic, I don’t want to give that impression. It’s not an automatic thing, but it is certainly something that our judges consider and it’s certainly something someone can ask for. The Safe Harbor court, that is true of our court all the time. Your ability to weigh in to reduce fines and fees is an option all the time. That’s why I say so often, come in and talk to us and see what we can do to get this burden off your back, get the warrant off your back. 

It’s not so much the fines and fees, although those can be difficult as well, but they can set up a payment plan, they can do community service, we can have an indigency hearing if their situation is that they’re found to be indigent then and they’re not responsible to pay the ticket. So they can participate anytime they walk in our court, or any one of our events.

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Rachel BehrndtGovernment Accountability Reporter

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...