Court Officials Prepare to Enforce Fines and Court Costs Be Paid
NORMAN, Oklahoma -- All across the state, judges and other courthouse officials are going back to school. They're learning the court system is losing money--and they're also learning how to put a stop to that.
The Supreme Court is putting on a full-court press on local court officials to make sure fines are imposed and court costs are paid.
Cleveland County court officials got the word today.
This cost collection workshop is one of several being held all over the state to impress upon judges especially the urgency of imposing fines and court costs. Those monies go to support all courthouse operations, including the deputies that provide security. The Cleveland County Court Clerk says there's no falloff in her collections, but it's a different picture statewide.
"There are a number of things that have led to failings in the collection area, including less citations being written by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol for instance," Mike Evans with the Administrative Office of the Courts said. "There are not as many troopers on the road as there used to be."
The fines, costs and fees are set by law, but in criminal cases they are sometimes waived if the defendant is cannot afford it.
"We do that were there is the Constitutional problem of ordering an indigent person to pay court costs and fees when they clearly can't afford to do so," Cleveland County Judge William Hetherington said.
But with state appropriations for the courts reduced by seven percent, some defense attorneys fear pressure will grow to hit the poor harder.
"I have some concerns that now we want to not accept plea agreements if they don't have certain money up front," defense attorney Steve Stice said.
Those involved in these workshops say it won't happen. But some worry that hard times, like hard cases, will make bad law.