Shelby County looks to collect old court debt

Shelby County looks to collect old court debt

By: AP

MEMPHIS (AP) — Shelby County commissioners are taking a tip from Texas and want the General Assembly to allow the county to act more aggressively to collect court fees and fines. In Dallas County, Texas, stronger payment enforcement including a community service program that allows people to work off debts has helped the county collect about 88 percent of all fines and fees owed to the courts. Shelby County is faced with deep budget pressures and officials hope to recover even a fraction of the $417 million in outstanding court fines, fees and taxes. The County Commission will consider a resolution this week asking the General Assembly to change the law to give courts more ability to collect fines and fees. Another proposal suggests a new court division to oversee collections or paying judges an incentive for collecting debt. “We owe it to the public in general in this county to come up with a system that works,” said Commission Chairman David Lillard. Shelby County has a collection rate of only about 20 percent in General Sessions Court and 12 to 14 percent in Criminal Court. Commissioner Mike Ritz said if people were forced to pay court costs or do community service “wearing some yellow and pink outfit, I bet they’d find the money to get them paid.” However, some judges say collecting debts is the job of the clerks, not the judges. General Sessions Judge Loyce Lambert Ryan also said not all the debt will be able to be recovered. “Some people just don’t have the money,” she said. Jim Lehman, the collections program manager for the state of Texas, said the community service often serves as an incentive to pay back the courts. “It flushed out those who really had the ability to pay,” he said. ——— Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com Published in The Messenger 5.28.08

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