Nearly 600 in system for unpaid fines

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Court officials are hoping people see their name in print and come in to settle their debt.

Curry County Magistrate Court Manager Jinger Fiola said nearly 600 people are in the system for failing to pay fines and have warrants out for their arrest.

Some of the cases are older than 1995. Some are new.

Fiola said this year’s list of failure to pay warrants has grown, likely a combination of a difficult economy and a growing caseload at the courts.

The cases on the list are traffic cases or petty misdemeanors and total about $260,000, which is intended as operating cash for the court.

Fines owed range from as little as $16 to more than $2,000.

Fiola said in the past the court has published names of those who have failed to pay and finds that often people forgot they still owed money or moved away or, in some cases, are dead and the court was never informed.

“We don’t send (out notices and) sometimes it’s easy to slip their minds with other bills and stuff and they forget they have it,” she said.

The courts are not offering amnesty this year. If people come in and pay in full, the warrant against them will be canceled immediately, she said.

“They can just come into the court (or have someone) pay it and we cancel it out right away,” she said. “Then they don’t have to risk getting pulled over and taken to jail.”

And that’s a strong probability of what will happen according to Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders.

Anytime officers respond to a call for assistance or conduct a traffic stop, they run identification through the system and will discover local warrants.

“Sooner or later, if they’ve been in the system before, sooner or later they’re going to come across us,” he said.

When a warrant is discovered, the individual is taken to jail, where they are booked and held until they pay a bond or other arrangements are made with the courts.

“They are surprised a lot of times,” he said.

And outstanding warrants surface often, Sanders said.

The police department averages 240 arrests a month, he said, a good number of which are on outstanding warrants.

“With their name in the paper we would hope that they would come down and get it taken care of,” Sanders said.