County–$20 million plus in uncollected fines, 8,000 plus of unserved warrants

County–$20 million plus in uncollected fines, 8,000 plus of unserved warrants

By Joe Baker

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

Winnebago County has in excess of $20 million in uncollected fines and thousands of unserved warrants. That was confirmed Tuesday by State’s Attorney Paul Logli.

“A lot of money is owed to the court system from the last 10 or 15 years. I would say it is more than $20 million,” Logli said. He added that the problem is not confined to this county, but is a problem statewide and nationally.

Logli said some delays in processing the fines were caused by a changeover from one computer system to another in the circuit clerk’s office, but “a lot of it is due to the fact that many of those who owe the fines are indigent. We are limited in what we can do (to collect). The Supreme Court says we must show willful failure. That’s hard to show,” he said.

Willful failure means the individual has the means to pay the fine but does not do so.

“We started a financial compliance unit about a year and a half ago,” Logli said, “but it has not been as successful as I had hoped.”

He explained that this is a group of five or six employees who begin collection procedures the first day that a defendant is given a fine. Both felony and misdemeanor crimes are included. Logli said the local office is one of the first of this size in the country. He said payment plans have been devised to make it easier for individuals to pay the fines.

Logli said there are two principal avenues for making collections. “We use collection agencies and court calls,” he said. “We lack a detailed history of these people (defendants) in many cases,” he said. He said there still is a lack of manpower to process all the people who are fined.

As the number of cases grew, “conventional means became less effective,” Logli said. Conventional means of dealing with delinquent payments are to haul the person back into court, there is a hearing and they are found in contempt if they cannot produce a valid reason for not paying, then lodged in the jail. As jail crowding became more and more of a headache for the sheriff, these cases only compounded the problem, he said.

Logli said under the new system set up in his office, his staff and the circuit clerk’s staff are better able to keep current with the fines imposed by the courts and, at the same time, are making some headway in collecting past-due fines.

“I think we’ve taken a positive step,” he said.

As to outstanding warrants, Logli said: “There are a lot of warrants out. I don’t know how many. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was several thousand. You’d have to ask the sheriff. It’s a constant problem.”

Winnebago County Sergeant Brad Fitz, head of the legal process department, which is charged with service of warrants and subpoenas, said that he is aware of at least 8,000 unserved warrants. Fitz also alluded to the changeover of computer systems in the circuit clerk’s office. He said the changeover contributed to a delay in processing warrants and tabulating totals.

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