Susan Eagle, where in one of her cases, there actually is an outstanding bench warrant. In addition, judges often release Defendants from probation before they've paid. Without the hammer of a bench warrant or jail time, they quickly stop paying.
Under these circumstances, perhaps the stupidest thing a County could do is hire a toothless collections agency. So naturally, that's what we've done. Lamont McClure led that effort in 2006, predicting the County would get about 3-4% of the total owed.
Well, that hasn't worked. In 2009, crime victim Roy Shuman (no relation to the party boss) told Council that he was receiving regular restitution payments for a break-in at his business until the matter went to a collections agency. After that, he got nothing.
Last year, Criminal Division Clerk Leigh Ann Fischer sent $9.3 million in unpaid fines, costs and restitution to the County's newest collection agency, Modern Recovery Solutions. There are tens of millions more outstanding, and a newly hired accountant is trying to piece it all together. But that $9.3 million was for starters.
In that year's time, the County has collected less than $2,500, reports Fisher. That's 0.02%, about 1/20th the amount predicted by McClure. "It's minimal," she admits. "Our hands are tied," adds Director of Court Services Archie Disidore, who notes that Defendants often change addresses and there is little a collection agency can do, especially compared with the power of a judge.
Even a judge's powers are limited. He can't just send someone to jail for not paying a fine if he has no financial ability, and there is a limit to how long someone can be placed on probation. But I believe judges could probably do more, especially if they are actually interested in justice as opposed to processing cases.
If the County were able to collect more of this money, it would both be helping crime victims and easing the tax burden. But the problem is being ignored.
When Susan Eagle contacted Controller Steve Barron in April, he had a perfect opportunity to do the job he was elected to do. According to the Home Rule Charter, he has a duty to audit all agencies to determine the "efficiency and effectiveness" of any program involving money. But Barron has conducted no audit since a collection agency was brought on board to determine the "efficiency and effectiveness" of the new system?
Barron's predecessor, John Schimmel, did do such an audit, and found the collection agency wanting. He noted that improvements were needed and that the longer a case sits idle, the less chance there is of seeing any recovery.
But that was when we had a real Controller.
This is a matter where the Courts, if they are interested in helping the victims of crime, could and should do more.