Livability Court still surviving challenges

Judge Michael Molony listens to a case shortly after the Charleston’s Livability Court was created in 2002.

The city of Charleston’s Livability Court may continue to live — at least for now, according to the S.C. Supreme Court.

Connie Spence, whose firm Atlantic Property Managements handles several downtown Charleston rental properties, had challenged the constitutionality of this special municipal court in a lawsuit filed directly with the state’s top court.

She filed the lawsuit after being cited twice by the city, most recently for a November 2014 littering incident at a rental property on 58 Bull St.

This week, the high court denied Spence’s petition seeking to stop the Livability Court from doing its work.

As a result, the city will move forward on the two citations that it had issued against Spence, city spokeswoman Barbara Vaughn said.

Spence’s attorney, Nancy Bloodgood, said Spence may refile the case at some future point.

Sandy Senn, an attorney who represented the city, said Livability Court has survived previous challenges, and this one is no different. She said the city will seek court costs from Spence.

Downtown neighborhood presidents have said Livability Court has played a crucial role in addressing the persistent problem of loud parties, most often thrown by college students.

Mayor Joe Riley and City Council created the special court to deal with noise complaints, litter and unkept properties — relatively minor offenses that once slipped through the cracks but that many consider crucial to keeping the city a nice place to call home. The court operates similar to the way a municipal traffic court does.

Charleston Municipal Judge Michael Molony has presided over the court for most of its 13 years in existence.

While Livability Court is a criminal court — where defendants can face fines of up to $1,092 and even jail time — Molony often tells defendants he is more interested in solving problems than collecting fines or sending anyone to jail.

In many cases, fines are suspended as long as defendants don’t commit a similar offense. The city collects less than $160,000 a year from all fines and fees levied in its courts, about a tenth of 1 percent of its $150 million budget.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.