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Courts starting to collect $3.84M in overdue fines

NATCHEZ — It’s only a few thousand dollars a month, but Adams County’s Justice Court has started the process of collecting the $3.84 million in overdue fines that are owed to the county.

Justice Court Judge Charlie Vess has been outspoken about the fine problem in the last year, and after speaking with the county supervisors about the issue earlier this year set up special days for contempt of court hearings in an effort to collect those fines.

In the initial months, the contempt hearings were not very successful, with the judge and the court clerk, Audrey Bailey, at times apparently disagreeing about how and to whom the contempt notices should be sent out.

In April, the supervisors sent a policy to the clerk’s office outlining how offenders should be served contempt notices, targeting those who live in Adams County and owe large fines first, followed by those who owe restitution and last seeking those who live out of state.

Since the policy has been in place, both justice court judges — both Vess and Judge Patricia Dunmore — have been assigned between 40 and 50 contempt cases a month, Bailey said.

In June, Vess’s court collected $1,246.50 in fines and jailed four offenders. Bench warrants were issued for 26 who failed to appear.

For the same month, Dunmore’s court collected $1,919 in fines, jailed one and issued bench warrants for 30 who failed to appear.

“Bench warrants are our only recourse after we send out the letters and they fail to appear,” Bailey said.

Vess said the court is keeping a binder marking the progress that is being made for the supervisors to see, and he believes the monthly hearings are helping compel others to either show or pay their fines.

“Word is out on the street now that we are serious about this,” he said. “We have incarcerated a few people as a result of this, and the majority of people — if we have incarcerated them — have paid very quickly.”

The judge said the court is also looking at ways to make the contempt hearings more efficient, such as finding out if someone who is going to be served with a contempt notice also has a civil warrant so that a constable can serve both notices at the same time.