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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Lucas Co., state team up to collect fines, court costs

Full payments could generate over $14M

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter says only those who ignore the debt will have names sent to the state. County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter says only those who ignore the debt will have names sent to the state.
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After successfully collecting more than $500,000 in delinquent fines and court costs through a partnership with the Ohio Attorney General, the Lucas County Clerk of Courts is once again going after money owed with state help.

The county recently sent 9,828 criminal cases, dating to 1996, to the attorney general for collection. If collected fully, the cases would generate $14,941,639.05.

"People are going to get bills, and they're going to wonder what this is, but this is money owed us," said Bernie Quilter, county clerk of courts. "We just sent a new batch out [to the attorney general]. We're going to go out and get it."

The clerk's office first teamed up with the state in 2009 for a pilot program to use the attorney general's resources to collect the delinquent funds. The current amount of delinquent fines and court costs for the common pleas court general division - including criminal and civil - as well as domestic relations court is about $17 million.

By using court orders seeking to garnish tax returns and tracking those who move out of the county, the attorney general's office was better equipped to bring in the money owed. Over the past three years, the effort brought in $355,118.35 to Lucas County's general division and $159,976.54 more for the domestic relations court.

That money was then distributed to various county and local agencies, including several thousand dollars each to the sheriff, the probation department, and the victims-of-crime fund.

Already proved successful in Lucas County, the attorney general's office announced in January that it would help any local government agency collect outstanding debt, as long as it was a final amount owed and it was more than $100.

Since the announcement, Coshocton County, Fairborn Municipal Court, and Guernsey County have looked to the attorney general to help collect debts, said the office's spokesman, Dan Tierney.

Mr. Tierney noted that the attorney general's collection enforcement section already serves as the chief collection agent for all state agencies, boards, commissions, and universities so it has the staff and resources in place to help others collect.

And by assessing a 10 percent collection fee to each case, there is no cost to taxpayers, he said.

"Many local governments are feeling the strain that our economy has put on their budgets," Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement. "Our Local Government Collections Services Program will help counties, cities, townships, and villages recover money they are owed and free up resources that otherwise would have been devoted to collections."

Mr. Quilter said that those whose names were sent to the attorney general already would have received at least three notices from his office about the money owed. Only those who ignore the obligation -- sometimes for years -- will find their names passed on to the state, he said.

"By aggressively pursuing individuals delinquent in paying these mandated fees, the Clerk of Courts in partnership with the Ohio Attorney General's office is returning significant dollars owed to Lucas County through a successful and cost-effective program," Mr. Quilter said.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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