Contempt policy targets offenders

Published 12:08am Tuesday, April 2, 2013

NATCHEZ — If an offender lives here, go after them first. If they owe restitution, they are second priority. If they owe a lot of money, consider them a prime target. Lastly, go after those who live out-of-state.

Those are the guidelines for prioritization the Adams County Board of Supervisors adopted Monday in the form of a new policy directing the Adams County Justice Court staff how to arrange contempt hearings for defendants whose court fines are delinquent.

The issue of collecting the $3.84 million in late justice court fines has been a sore one in recent months, with the court clerk, Audrey Bailey, and one of the judges, Charlie Vess, apparently disagreeing — or at least not communicating — on how to go about setting the contempt hearings meant to collect the fines.

The policy adopted Monday was developed with input from both Vess and Bailey, Board of Supervisor’s Attorney Scott Slover said.

In addition to prioritizing to whom the notices will be sent, the policy specifies that — while the judge or the clerk have the right to schedule a day for contempt hearings — both should notify the other of when contempt hearings are scheduled at least 45 days in advance.

It also specifies that the justice court judges should be given an updated list of those who owe fines for the previous three years each quarter, and from that list the judge may order a contempt hearing. If the judge does not issue an order from the list provided, the clerk should send out notices from the list following the priorities the board provided.

The policy likewise states that the clerk must present the judge with a bench warrant for all defendants who fail to appear after their notice was sent, though the judge does not have to issue the warrant; the form the clerk will provide will give the judge an opportunity to detail why he or she did not issue a bench warrant. The new policy also requires the clerk to give a monthly report to the supervisors about the contempt hearings.

Bailey declined to comment about the new policy Monday.

The policy also has recommended guidelines for the judges, though Slover said as elected officials the board cannot actually direct the judges to do anything.

The supervisors recommended that the judges make all fines immediately due upon sentencing, and if defendants are unable to pay right away the judge delay sentencing until the defendant is able to appear before the court with the necessary fines or restitution. If the sentencing is not delayed and the defendants are given a payment schedule, the supervisors recommended that the defendants be given a court date by which they will have paid their fines or will have to appear to explain why it has not been paid.

Those who do not make the payment or appear on the court-appointed date should have a bench warrant issued for their arrest, the policy advises. The calendar tracking when those who have been given a return date will be kept by the clerk.

“(If a defendant) can show the court that they are basically indigent or poor and we set up some kind of payment plan, if they skip two months, somebody should tell me so I can figure out if there has been a problem, like they have been in the hospital or have died or something,” Vess said.

The judge also said that while he was open to guidance from the board, he didn’t necessarily think that demanding a full payment of fines at sentencing was always the right choice.

“Any judge will tell you that just putting somebody in jail will not necessarily elicit the fines,” he said. “Some will make a good-faith effort and do something, if they are making an effort to pay the fine, then I don’t think it is fair to just body slam them randomly in jail.”

The judge said he believes the clerk’s office can send out two or three notices a day and within a month have 40 to 50 people coming in for contempt hearings.

  • Anonymous

    Why not put them in jail? I really don’t care that they don’t have the money; they shouldn’t have committed the crime. This is ridiculous. All this bull___ because they aren’t made to pay the fine when they’re sentenced. Duh….there’s your answer..PAY THE DAMNED FINE OR GO TO JAIL.

  • Anonymous

    Partly true ROR…….Sending a person to jail for a DUI, No Insurance, or Speeding right away when they have a trial might seem like a good idea. However, if employed, it could cost them their job which translates to no money for anybody and on the welfare rolls they go!! Also, if you are found guilty of a crime like theft, or caught with drugs then those people are prime candidates for a jail cell. People who damage your property or cause injury to your person are my top concern…….and victim’s address the court prior to any sentencing. Especially in domestic violence cases they almost always go to jail or are put on a tight leash by the court. If they have no job and can pass a drug test there are community projects available to pay the fine. Problem is most of the massive debt accumulated thru lack of administrative control. Now there are guidelines by the Board of Supervisors and I thank them for their support. Now we can see if we get action instead of excuses. I will report to the Board on the progress (or lack thereof) on not only those who have appeared in court but the 3 out of 4 who don’t and owe
    fines. If progress is not made, what was not reported, is the matter could be brought to the Boards’ attention thru the county grievance policy and the court administrator or clerks could have their pay withheld or terminated if the problem is not corrected. Nobody wants to take this extreme measure…..all is asked is a fair days work for a fair days pay!! Citizens, taxpayers and property owners deserve at least that…..

  • Anonymous

    Adding in a simple process for those out of towners won’t swamp the system. Place a contempt citation on their driver’s license – when/wherever they get stopped, they get to see the inside of a jail cell. You likely will get a lot of mail in money or wire transfers very quickly. Send ‘em a postcard in advance to see if that has the desired result prior to the D/L posting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/conutte.bantor Conutte Bantor

    Right on!!! If big Momma can come up with the bond to get these people out of jail when they are arrested, she can come up with the fine when they go to court. If they have no job, sentence them to jail requiring that they work on the roads or mop floors or something for a certain amount per day until their fine is settled. Working might be good for most of them.

  • Anonymous

    From what I have read the last few months the clerk should be brought up on contempt charges.

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    Hey, its finally happening after all these years, months , weeks and days that the taxpayers have complained about this problem that action going to happen and the money going to be coming in and the jails will be filled huh’??!! Now, thats what I’m talking about but it still needs some people fired in the clerks office done by the BOS as well ASAP!!! But its a start and good to see the BOS and Judge Vess working together on this issue and I feel it will get done so lets geterdone!!!

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    Judge, I feel jail will get their attention real quick and they will get the money if the have to borrow it for after this long Jail shouldn’t ever be questions in my opinion!!!

  • La_Sweetie318

    The only problem I have with this is that the collection company that justice court uses, Receivable Solutions, is screwed up. Their records aren’t accurate. I was arrested for not paying a ticket a few years ago, which WAS paid. Judge Vess released me when I showed that it had been paid. However, according to Receivable Solutions records, I still owe. So does this mean I’m going to be RE-arrested and have to prove my innocence (not innocent of speeding but innocent of contempt) AGAIN?!? I guess I better dig out those receipts AGAIN and make a copy to keep with me and give one to everyone I know. Smh!

  • Anonymous

    They no longer collect for the county

  • Anonymous

    Sue the county for false arrest. Be sure to include Ms. Bailey in the list of defendants so she can explain her actions to SOMEONE.

  • Anonymous

    Uh uh, just planned to happen. Wait until you see results. After 2 years of knowing and nothing happening, this is only a baby step. Must be getting closer to election time.

  • Anonymous

    I’m giving you a positive arrow on that post Rat. That’s good huh’??!!

  • Anonymous

    Hey, if the county owned hospital can go after a management company and settle for milliions, why can’t the county court go after the collection agency who failed miserably and get a settlement for the amount at least what the delinquencies grew during their time in the barrel?

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    Good thinking!! I like that!!

  • Anonymous

    Only time will tell. Collecting $3.84 million should not take any longer to collect than it took to acquire it. After all, new fines will still be accumulating.

  • Anonymous

    ‘Specially that part about thinkin’ huh’??!!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks…(khakirat)…… FYI many have gotten a wake up call when a jail cell is staring them in the face. There are probably at least 4 or 5 doing 90 days right now. We have recouped many thousands of dollars with the threat of wearing orange and white. Most of these people were caught owing fines when arrested on new charges. But at least they are paying something. Now that the BOS has taken action we have a set of hearings set up for April 15th. It is amazing what dangling a “paycheck” over someones head can do!! I thank Atty. Scot Slover and the Board for their assistance. Cross your fingers now that this will be an every month routine and not a flash in the pan.

  • Anonymous

    Throwing them in jail cost the taxpayers money either way. It is not free to house them. I speak with experience for managing a jail. It cost to feed, house, and take care of (medical) and there is no way around that. Courts higher than located in Natchez have made those decisions for us. Inmates get credit towards their fine each day they sit. $25.00/day plus the cost of housing your looking at 40-50 dollars a day to hold an inmate. Some individuals all you can do is house them. They have no intent on paying the fine. Then those that are productive citizens (working) made a mistake and are trying to do right-you want them to continue to work and allow them to make payments. Having them work off their fines sounds good and for some the program works. Others it does not. For those that are willing to work it takes someone to watch over them. There is a fine line when trying to determine what will work best. And yes for some the threat of going to jail scares the crap out of them, but for others it is like a walk in the park. There is no perfect solution that will fit every situation and I hope that justice court is back on track. There has to be that fear that if you dont pay your fine something WILL happen. I dont think that exist today in justice court. Hoping this changes that.

  • Anonymous

    As always the ones who worked and or now working always had to pay and still have to pay their fines,the deadheads aren,t going to pay,and Natchez can,t make them,how do you think they have been getting by with it all these years,with a little help from their friends,most who don,t pay have everything in somebody else,s name,and 3 or 4 addresses,how can you collect from that crew?? Nobody puts them in jail,why should they give a cuss,typical Natchez as always.

  • Anonymous

    If they ever really have to pay they will immediately stop all that bull.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe body slamming them in jail won,t help the fines,but they will pay it if they know they won,t get out until they do,course it would never happen in Natchez,what a joke.

  • Anonymous

    Not all of these offenses are true crimes, e.g. speeding tickets written by MHP or similar driving offenses written by ACSO. About 90% of the citizens of AC have no money nowadays, they put it all in the gas tank and keep on driving, then use the card to buy groceries. Mayfield would need a jail as large as the Fenwick prison to house all under your plan – even though I agree with your principle. At least they wouldn’t have to use the card in the prison/jail so that money would be left over, or the free relatives would get fatter on the leftovers that weren’t there before.