Warrants being served for fines, fees left unpaid, officials say

Friday, August 3, 2012

BERRYVILLE -- The revamping of the way Carroll County Circuit Court collects and tracks past-due, court-ordered fines, fees and restitution continues to progress, and the sheriff's office has begun serving warrants for those who have failed to pay, authorities confirmed this week.

The circuit clerk is combing through old court records and payment receipts to issue warrants for those who haven't paid and has made it to names that begin with H as she goes through the alphabetically ordered books.

There are several ways that the sheriff's office has been making contact with those that have failed to pay. Local offenders are being served with warrants at their home and also are being picked up during routine traffic stops; out-of-state offenders are issued a letter advising of the warrant and are provided with options to resolve the balance; and incarcerated offenders and their parole officers are notified of the warrant and given options to satisfy it, officials said.

"When I issue failure to pay warrants, I specify that the arrested will be released as soon as they go to the detention center and are given a court date to appear before me," explained Circuit Judge Kent Crow.

According to Crow, the outstanding fines and fees that are owed the county totals well over $1 million -- some have estimated it could be as much as $2 million -- and the court wants to collect.

Judge Crow met with Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hannah in Little Rock to discuss ways to improve collections. During that meeting, Hannah suggested ways to update the current system and become more effective.

"When I got back I asked the court clerk for a list of people that were 90 days past due, and the clerk was unable to provide that," Crow said. "I wrote a new procedure and recommendation, but it was not implemented.

"A year after I took office I attempted to find out how much was owed to the county but I didn't get an exact calculation; it looks like it is around the $1.2 million mark," he said.

Presently the circuit clerk uses handwritten ledger books to record payment schedules, fines and fees. Circuit Clerk Ramona Wilson acknowledged that the system is not only outdated, it is also inefficient.

"It's hard to guess the amount that is owed to the county; the last time I calculated it was in 1995 and $1.5 million was owed," said Wilson. "It's not an exact science."

And the outdated system is even causing warrants to be issued when they shouldn't be, the judge said.

"In some cases, warrants have been issued for people who have actually paid their fines but unfortunately our books did not reflect that," Crow added.

Other courts, such as the Carroll County District Court, have automated systems that auto-generate a warrant to an individual that has a past-due balance of 30 days.

"Since the Circuit Court only has handwritten ledgers it's almost impossible to go page by page to see who is delinquent," said Sheriff Bob Grudek. "The best way to monitor the fees would be through a computerized system."

Wilson's office has tucked away more than $250,000 for automation funding. She has accumulated this money over many years through record-keeping fees, but she still has not hired a company to set up the system.

"I have been talking with other court offices that are automated to see what system is best, and once I receive all the input I will work with a software company to see if they can customize a plan to meet our needs," Wilson said. "I don't know what the cost would be for an automated system but it can't be that expensive."

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