After second round-up day, old fines now could mean arrests

Staff Writer

Almost 50 more cases are cleared from the West Point Municipal Court backlog, bringing the number to as many as 400 new and old cases resolved or at least moved along in the last two months.

But with scores of names still left on the old list, police officers will start hauling people in as the effort to clean up the files intensifies.

“The judge said two months has been long enough. The list is still posted so people know who they are. Officers are going to start getting folks now unless they come on in,” Court Clerk Monica Lairy said of the directive from City Judge Mark Cliett.

Friday was the second big day for people on the old case list to come in and pay up, get a payment plan, get a trial date or have the case dismissed.

A total of 47 people showed up. Several had cases dismissed because the officers who wrote the tickets, one dating back as far as 2009, no longer work in the area. One of those was for leaving the scene of an accident. Another was for improper equipment.
“You’re in luck, the officer is in Orlando now,” Cliett told an older gentleman who had several infractions.

“That’s good the truck’s in the scrap yard now too,” the man replied.

Several other cases were simple assault warrants, some involving disputes among acquaintances and others involving domestic violence.

“I suspect many of those will resolve themselves,” Cliett said afterwards, noting some of the cases were three and four years old. “If they are still around, they may not even remember what they were arguing about.”

The court started the push when it posted 40 pages of names, cases and fine amounts, totaling 1,500 cases and about $1 million in possible fines, on the West Point Police Department’s Facebook page on Feb. 2.

Cliett, Lairy and her staff held the first round-up day Feb. 22, with 87 people coming in. A number of others paid off early. The court collected more than $11,000 in fines that day alone.

Many of those who were given payment plans or assigned to the city’s work program have completed their work or continued to pay fines.

A revised list was posted two weeks ago with March 22 as the round-up day.

“I appreciate you coming in,” Cliett said to one man who sat for more than two hours Friday only to have his case dismissed. “This has been around a while.”

Cliett, who is one of two city judges with Bennie Jones handling the other half of the caseload during the first half of the month, actually appeared to enjoy the assembly line approach.

“I like people, I like helping people and believe it or not, that’s really what we are trying to do. Most of these people know they’ve got something hanging out there and we are just trying to help them get it cleaned up and taken care of,” he explained.

He listens to each case and reads through the case file with the person. Most get a payment plan, others say they are ready to pay it off. Some seek trials for things like assault charges or even an old speeding ticket or stop sign violation.

“I’ll give you 30 days to investigate getting your license so come back after that and we will talk again,” Cliett told one woman who go a subpoena to be back in court in April.

“If they have their license or their insurance, they are on their way to being more productive citizens. That’s what we want them to be,” he said.

On the flip side, people also can’t continue to flaunt the system by ignoring their responsibilities.

“That’s not fair to all the people who do,” he said.

The crackdown produced near-record court fine revenues in February and that trend likely will continue in March. Lairy and her staff collected more than $5,000 in fines Friday alone.

While the goal was not necessarily to pad city coffers, the push likely will put the city at least $50,000 over budgeted revenues, funds that can go to other services or needs.