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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2008

Lucas County gets state s help on late fines

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Lucas County clerk of courts, with help from the Ohio Attorney General s Office, is hoping to collect some of the about $38 million owed for delinquent fines and court costs.

When the AG sends a letter, that carries weight, Bernie Quilter, clerk of courts, said yesterday.

I need to have somebody who will go out, with authority, and aggressively say: You owe the clerk $100, and we want it.

The county is participating in a pilot program to use the attorney general s resources to collect the delinquent funds, which date to 1997.

Most of the money is owed by criminal defendants who are either incarcerated or indigent and unlikely to pay.

Mr. Quilter said he has limited resources and no legal authority to collect fines imposed by judges or juries, or court costs billed to those who go through the court system.

He can seek a court order to collect payment, but Mr. Quilter said the process is time-consuming. Or a missed payment could result in a probation or parole violation.

Some court systems have used collection agencies to recover funds, using a provision in Ohio law that allows the costs of collection to be passed on to the debtors.

From 2003 until 2007, the court used the Lucas County Treasurer s Office to collect such money about $350,000, but that process ended this year because of conflicting computer systems and the office s inability to track older debt, Lila Shousher, the treasurer s director of financial affairs, said.

The attorney general has such a system. It s just unbelievable, Ms. Shousher said. They can really go back and get that older debt collected.

The attorney general s office also is better staffed to file for court orders seeking to garnish the wages of those owing money, take other actions to force payment, and track those who move out of the county, Mr. Quilter said.

This is a win-win because all of the money stays with the public government, Mr. Quilter said.

The attorney general s office did not return calls seeking comment.



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