Circuit clerk collecting more in fines

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 7, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Some of the fines owed to Adams County courts date back to the days of disco.

But a circuit clerk program has been working to bring collections up to the times.

In a little more than two years, the Adams County Circuit Clerk’s Office has collected nearly $796,000 in outstanding fines dating back to the late 1970s, according to court records.

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Before the current collection system began, &uot;people would be fined and walk out of the courthouse and never pay a dime,&uot; said Circuit Clerk M.L. &uot;Binkey&uot; Vines. &uot;It’s a burden on the taxpayer and an insult to the court.&uot;

In January 2001, six months of study revealed that $784,120 was owed in Circuit Judge Forrest &uot;Al&uot; Johnson’s court; $197,288 in Circuit Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders’ court; and $64,000 in County Judge John Hudson’s court.

The amounts now owed are down to $203,000, $42,000 and $4,363, respectively, thanks to the cooperation of all three judges and the hard work of employees in the Circuit Clerk’s Office, Vines said.

In addition, $188,000 in judgments has been collected during that time.

The system is simple: Vines sends out letters and &uot;show cause&uot; orders directing people to show up at the courthouse to pay their fines &045; or to tell the judge why they cannot.

If they do not show up in court, they are arrested on bench warrants. The judge can then revoke their probation or sentence them to time in jail on contempt of court until payment arrangements are made. But the new collection system also helps make sure delinquent fines don’t become a problem in the future, Vines said.

That is because judges now direct defendants they sentence to pay their fines, or to make payment plans, with the Circuit Clerk’s Office before they leave the courthouse.

In addition, those owing fines are &uot;red-flagged&uot; in the office’s computer system so that if they ever come back to court, they will have to make payment arrangements before they leave.

There is a need for such a system, Vines said &045; but it is also required by the State Auditor’s Office. That department is now requiring that counties account for the fines they are owed.

With that in mind, county officials from throughout the state have asked about Adams County’s system, Vines said.