Court offers amnesty for fines, fees

Published 10:42 pm Friday, April 9, 2010

Got a traffic ticket you’ve never paid? Or even something worse you’ve never taken care of?

In an attempt to collect the $3 million of outstanding state court fees and fines owed in Chilton, Autauga and Elmore counties, the 19th Judicial Circuit is now offering amnesty to people with outstanding warrants — provided that they come in and pay the money.

The circuit will offer the deal between now and April 23.

District Attorney Randall Houston said the program will “allow people to pay fees and court costs without fear of being arrested.”

“This is a positive for everyone involved as the courts can clear outstanding fee records, while offering an opportunity for people to pay off their overdue debt, and rest assured they will avoid arrests,” Houston said.

The amnesty program is a partnership between the court system, circuit clerks and the district attorney’s office.

Statewide, $404 million is owed in the Alabama court system. The $3 million owed in the 19th Circuit is comprised from 30,000 cases during the amnesty period.

All three of the county courthouses will be open for extended hours until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For people who work during the day in Chilton County, Circuit Clerk Glenn McGriff will have staff on call to receive payments.

McGriff said the court system is willing to work with people. To do away with the warrants, people owing the courts will have to pay down at least 10 percent and set up a payment plan for the balance.

“The economy is bad; we realize that,” McGriff said. “If they come in, we’ll be glad to work with them.”

The causes range from traffic stops to felony drug fines.

“It’s the whole spectrum of cases,” Houston said.

The amnesty does not apply to worthless check fees paid through the district attorney’s office.

The program was modeled after a similar one used in Montgomery. Cases are between five and 10 years old.

“If we can get within 10 years, I think we’ll be doing good,” Houston said. “Trying to collect fees from anything older would be a waste of time.”

If the program isn’t successful, Houston said, a roundup between the county’s sheriff’s office, state troopers and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation would be the next step.

“If you have outstanding fees, now is the time to benefit from this immunity period,” Houston said. “Because afterward, aggressive enforcement will begin on the part of law enforcement.”

Circuit courts across the state have been asked to collect. While the money will go into the state’s general fund, local officials hope the effort will stop a recent trend of cutting staff.

McGriff said he appreciates the hard work his staff puts in, but said his office is only staffed at 64 percent of what it should be.

If a person believes they have an outstanding warrant and would like more information, they need to go to the circuit clerk’s office at the courthouse in the county the warrant was issued. Due to the volume of cases, the clerk’s office will not accept phone inquiries regarding outstanding warrants.