Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

$116,000 in Fines Stymied in System

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

$116,000 in Fines Stymied in System

Article excerpt

More than $116,000 in fine money collected by the Salvation Army

in the past 20 years is available to the Duval County Clerk of

Courts Office, but officials don't know who paid it or where it

should go.

The Salvation Army, which collects fines and oversees people on

probation for the Clerk's Office, was required by law to destroy

records about the receipt of the money, organization officials

said.

Without records to show who paid the fines, Clerk of Courts

Henry Cook will not accept the money.

That situation, as well as several other problems with the fine

collection system, were pointed out in a City Council auditor

report issued this week.

The auditors began looking into the Salvation Army's handling

of the money in December 1996 because money was building up that

should have been sent to the Clerk's Office.

Other highlights of the report showed:

The Salvation Army, whose contract with the courts runs out

next month, had more than $1.6 million in fines in a non-interest

bearing bank account in December 1996 that should have been

sent to the clerk but instead accumulated because of confusion

over procedures. Most of the money now is in the hands of the

clerk.

The court system's contract with the Salvation Army could

violate Florida's Constitution.

Auditors said Cook, as the clerk of courts, has a

constitutional responsibility to collect the fines. Without

Cook's involvement, the court administrator assigned the work to

the Salvation Army. But auditors said the constitutionality of

the arrangement is unclear because other Florida counties have

the same deal with the Salvation Army.

What is clear is that some fine payments, which are supposed to

be dispersed to various agencies and individuals entitled to

restitution, either have been delayed or never will be made.

The confusion stems from changes in technology and procedures

since 1972, when the court administrator and Salvation Army

officials entered an informal agreement.

Clerk of Courts S. Morgan Slaughter refused then to accept

partial payments on fines because it was too difficult to keep

track of them, officials said. When the Salvation Army collected

partial payments from a probationer at that time, the

organization held the money until the entire fine was paid. Then

the money was sent to the Clerk's Office.

Sometimes, probationers would pay toward their fines for

several months, then fail to come in for appointments, which

would leave them in violation of their probations, according to

Maj. Bert Tanner, area commander of the Salvation Army branch.

Because the Salvation Army only had a portion of the fines, the

money could not be turned over to the clerk.

If the person on probation did not return after four years,

Tanner said, his organization was required by state law to

destroy probation records. …

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