Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday morning in collections court

It’s usually standing room only in collections court, but this morning the courtroom is only half full.

Collections court is where they send you when you don’t have the money to pay your fines and court costs. That’s a minimum of $210 for court costs, plus $40 if you use a public defender. Then you pay $5 a month for the privilege of having your case administered by collections court. (And the $5 is per case; I have one client who has 17 cases -- all panhandling and being in a park after hours -- so he needs $85 a month to tread water.)

W.C. is stunned to be told that she owes more than $6,000 for 11 different cases.

Collections court can be harsh if you blow it off. The monthly fees add up quickly and, if you don’t pay, sooner or later a writ of bodily attachment will be issued. That means you can be arrested, and you’ll be charged another $210 for the writ.

But if you’re really trying to pay off your obligations, the judge will work with you. W.C. has been in a transitional housing program for two months, and that’s a couple of points in her favor. She’s also gotten a job (for $7 an hour) and that’s a good sign to the judge.

W.C. gets a short extension and a monthly payment she says she can afford. She’s definitely in a hole but now she has a way to dig herself out.


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