DeKalb County Traffic Tickets Misplaced

Great article from the newspaper.

The DeKalb County Recorders Court —- one of the busiest traffic courts in the state —- has lost track of hundreds of thousands of citations, costing the county and the state possibly tens of millions of dollars in uncollected fines, according to internal court e-mails.

The breakdown also let people ignore citations and not face punishment —- and no one has been looking for them.

The e-mails, obtained through the Georgia Open Records Act, show that a two-year communications failure in the court’s computer systems has caused citations to sit unresolved in case databases. It’s the electronic equivalent of being stuffed in a closet and forgotten.

No one knows how many unresolved citations exist, but an internal memo from a consultant estimated the value of uncollected fines at $90 million to $135 million. Both R. Joy Walker, the chief judge of the court, and Vernon Jones, DeKalb’s outgoing CEO, disputed those figures, though both said they had no idea what the number is.

Court Administrator Troy Thompson, who took over his job in March, said the situation he inherited is deeply flawed.

“I want to be able to say that for anybody who runs from justice, we have made every effort in DeKalb County to hold them accountable,” he said. “And I can’t say that today.”

When a person is issued a citation, the information is put into the court’s central computer system. When the court date arrives, clerks in the courtrooms are supposed to record the outcome of the case, including whether a person showed up for court and how the case was resolved and any fines paid. All that should be sent to the central computer. Though primarily a traffic court, the system also handles petty crimes such as shoplifting and misdemeanor drug offenses.

Each month, that computer sends key traffic information to the state so it can be added to drivers’ histories. Police look at these histories whenever they pull someone over. Insurance companies look at this information when setting customers’ rates.

But the software in the courtrooms and the software at the courts’ main data center have not been communicating with each other or with state driver history databases —- as required by state law. Also, poorly trained staff have incorrectly entered data or never updated some people’s files, say e-mails by consultants hired to address the problems. Much of the data is so old the county may never be able to collect money it’s owed, according to many of those involved.

“The systems were not implemented effectively,” Thompson said. “People were not trained effectively. … The results speak for themselves.”

Walker, who was appointed chief judge by Jones in 2002, is responsible for the court’s budget and computer systems. She said the court computer systems have had problems since they were installed in 2006. She said no one knows the amount of uncollected fines but that estimates of $90 million to $130 million were “impossible.” She said many citations listed as unresolved have in fact been paid, but the computer information is inaccurate.

“I am not trying to negate the problem,” she said. “There is a systems problem.”

Walker said the county is considering ending its contract with Southern Automated Systems, a small company in Muscle Shoals, Ala., that provided software for the main court system. Walker said she has not been happy with the software, but switching to another system would be costly and difficult.

“We don’t have backup mechanisms in place to shut this down and start new,” she said.

J. Delilah Webb, president of Southern Automated Systems, did not want to discuss her dealings with the court in detail but said: “Our stance is the software is fine. It’s a management issue.”

Walker said she had sought additional funding for warrant officers and other court needs, but county commissioners have always rejected her requests. She also said the court has increased revenue from fines for the county’s general fund since she has been in office.

Jones said of problems at the court “the buck stops with me.” He said the estimate of tens of millions of dollars in uncollected fines was “an outright lie” by consultants eager to get extended contracts with the county.

“Nobody knows how much it is,” he said. “But if we are losing $1, that’s too much … that’s unacceptable.”

After being contacted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jones asked Thompson to set up an upcoming meeting with officials of Southern Automated Systems. He invited the AJC to attend.

“The truth hurts,” he said. “But I think you are doing the right thing by bringing this to light.”

CEO-elect Burrell Ellis declined to comment for this story. Shelia Trappier Edwards, his deputy transition manager, said that after being contacted by the AJC, Ellis directed his team to look into the matter.

Earlier this year, DeKalb commissioners discovered what was happening and hired consultants to uncover the problems, just as DeKalb police launched a criminal probe of an alleged ticket-fixing scandal at the court that led to charges against five court employees and six others. The court administrator, Terry Phillips, was reassigned to the county’s police services department, and Thompson was brought on. Phillips could not be reached for comment.

Since then, the magnitude of the problem has taken shape.

The Recorders Court handles citations written by DeKalb police, sheriff’s deputies and smaller departments including MARTA police.

Most weekdays, hundreds of people line up in front of the Recorders Court off Memorial Drive. At 2 p.m., they file in to appear before a judge. Many pay or contest fines because they fear warrants or points on their license.

Clarence Solomon, 25, was in line Monday for the second time in so many weeks on two expired tag tickets and a speeding ticket. His fines total $550, he said. He is contesting the speeding ticket and said he has documentation proving he bought his tags. The tickets have cost him two days of work. He said he knows people who haven’t paid fines, and if they are not punished “that’s not fair.”

He said he came to court because he was afraid the judge would issue a warrant for his arrest. “I don’t know about not showing up,” he said. “That’s risky.”

In fact, it hasn’t been risky for thousands of scofflaws. Internal e-mails reveal a host of problems with court computers, including:

> In a Sept. 18 memo, consultant B.J. Van Gundy said he estimated 107,000 failure-to-appear cases and an additional 283,000 cases haven’t been processed by the court system. He estimated the uncollected revenue of the failure-to-appear cases at $50 million to $75 million. He estimated uncollected revenue for the other, unprocessed cases at $40 million to $60 million. In a Sept. 8 e-mail, consultant Ken Harris described one large database as plagued by “poor data discipline and old dates.” Van Gundy and Harris would not comment for this story.

> In the same memo, Van Gundy wrote that consultants had found sloppy recordkeeping totaling tens of thousands of tickets, including 18,447 tickets in which the fine amount was not listed; 12,500 cases that were probably paid but not entered into the system; about 1,200 cases in which the fine is recorded, but either no name or address was listed.

> In August, Thompson and the consultants wrote a “Recorders Court Progress Report” that outlined “major operational weaknesses” at the court, stressing “current court systems are not integrated.” The report stated the rate of closed cases —- one in which fines were collected —- “is significantly below other like-type courts within the Metro-Atlanta area.”

Few reported to state

In August, Gregory Dozier, commissioner of the state Department of Driver Services, sent Walker a letter about long-standing “reporting problems.”

He estimated the court should be sending the state about 3,000 traffic citations a month, but for the past two years, it has sent virtually none.

Jennifer Ammons, general counsel for the state department, said an unknown number of people should have had their licenses revoked from DeKalb, but the information was never reported so the licenses are still valid.

“We have no idea how big the problem is. All those people who skipped court, if DeKalb does not report, those are also people who have dodged a license suspension,” she said. “We are monitoring that problem very closely.”

Ammons said the department hadn’t been tracking the citations being sent in from the counties until they were made aware of DeKalb’s problems earlier this year. Now officials have started tracking citations from all of Georgia’s counties. So far, the department has found DeKalb to be the only major county with problems.

Thompson, the administrator, said the court recently sent warning letters to some people who failed to show up for court, and a good portion of people came in to pay their fines. He is trying to expand his approximately $3.7 million budget to correct all the computer problems, retrain staff and send out more officers to serve warrants on people who don’t come to court. He thinks he can bring in millions more into county coffers. The court this year brought in roughly $17 million in revenue.

“I am working zealously daily with the consultants to nail these issues down,” he said. “Can this be rectified? Of course.”

Thompson said he hoped to fix problems in the coming year so future cases wouldn’t be lost.

He wasn’t sure when or how the county will go after the backlog of the outstanding tickets.

Walker promised that ultimately, all scofflaws will be brought to justice.

“We have taken efforts in the last three months to correct the problem,” she said. “The people who have been able to circumvent the system will be caught.”

Article by Cameron McWhirter

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Traffic Ticket in DeKalb County Georgia?

15 Responses

  1. Yeah, I got a ticket for running a red light back in July. My arraignment date was pushed back from August to December. Now that I plead not guilty, I am still waiting for my day in court. So much for my constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial.

    It seems to me that the ‘poor training’ is another word for apathetic bums who need to be fired. In this economy the county could easily replace them with more motivated people, perhaps even for less money.

  2. I am in limbo hell with the Dekalb County Recorders Court. On April 9th I was wrongfully convicted of hit and run. Stupidity tried to tell the judge that she had no choice but to dismiss the citation because it was more than 2 years old. Didn’t go over well. Anyway, I surrendered my license that day, was subject to a 120 day suspension which ended on August 9th. The DDS still shows that I have a valid license, but I can’t get a replacement because the DDS shows it surrendered. Tried calling the Court and their answer, everytime is you’ll just have to wait. So, basically, I have no actually license, but my license is valid. I have talked to so many people at the DDS and the Recorders Court and the answer is always the same. We can’t do anything until the court turns in the ticket.

  3. yes i misplaced my ticket, can you please send me a copy at your earliest convenience.

    thank you kindly

  4. I was pulled by a Dekalb police officer. Keep in mind He had no reason to pull me over after all I wasn’t doing anything wrong. He ran my plates while I was pumping gas and he said to I notice you have premit instead of a license even though I had someone in the with a license. I didn’t know the police were allowed to haras good people and try to turned them in to criminals where the justice in that .After that he pulled me over and had my car towed for know insurance when I clearly had insurance. when I called the inpound they your innsurance isn’t cancelled yet I dont see why the officer had it towed and it was the same officer.Now who do we call when somthing like this happen but this the of people they have protecting us. I don’t understand it at all now I have a ticket I can’t afford to. I guess once the deadline for the original price is over I will be in jail away from my kids.

    • Something similar happened to me. Said he pulled me over cause he didn’t like the looks of my vehicle.It had a dent on the bottom rocker panel. Now they lost the ticket for 7 years, they posted it in 2010 and of course I’d moved away by then so now there is a failure to appear warrant. Bastards!

  5. Dekalb County’s recorders Court is running the biggest scam I’ve ever seen, They contradict themselves by saying tickets were paid but not recorded but then they refer to taxpayers as Scofflaws. I recieved a letter in mail for driving without a seatbelt in 2003 and I paid the fine. It was only 15,00. Now they suspend my license and the cashier say’s I did’nt pay the ticket and they want 1,022.00 Where do get that kind of money from? and how am I suppose to get to work. This is cause for a class action suit.

  6. Dekalb county! traffic court. the worst ever, it needs to be re-vampted. I’m just lost for words. I now understand why this county has a bunch of criminals. it’s really sad!

  7. Ga sucks….its 2010 they pulled three tickets from 2001 and then this may 31 2010 suspended my license then in june 2010 passed a law that each ticket is now madatory 1,000 dollars are freaking kidding me…im gettin an attorney this is bull…

  8. I went to court on feb.3 2011 when i went to pay my fine,I was told that I had 3 more tickets and I had a warrent,I went back to the same court room and trid to explain to the judge that I came to court for those tickets already,She throw out two and made me pay for one,236 dollars! I know I come to court for those tickets.I drive for a living and can’t afford to lose my license,the judge was going to throw me in jail if i didnt pay the tickit,i’ve never been to jail before,im 46 and i was terrified!I know I went to court she tried to make it seem like I was calling the court a lie!WELL if the shoe fits,Im looking for a lawyer also

  9. I am a victim of Dekalb Counties unjust system. I was stopped and advised I was under arrest for an unpaid ticket from 2002. I was never officially notified nor was I ever served. The county has no right to dehumanize a person who has never been subjected to arrest and treat them like common criminals. Traffic tickets do not mean that you are a criminal. It should be a state law that mandates all traffic violations receive tickets, other than DUI. If Dekalb County overlooked tickets, because of employees negligence or an antiquated system in use, that is not citizens problems, but the county’s problem. Use some of the millions of dollars that Dekalb is making people repay already paid tickets to update your system. People have no recourse but to pay the ticket if they do not have proof from 9-10 years ago that they paid the ticket

  10. Dekalb County is DESPERATE for revenue; they’ll use any crooked tactic to get funds. It don’t matter how law abiding you are; THEY WILL DO WHAT EVER THEY CAN TO GET REVENUE OUTTA YOU!

  11. i was involve in an accident on oct. 24, 2011, with a truck,we went to court in dec. truck driver pleaded not guilty, how do i find out new court date?

  12. I misplace my ticket and I was trying to get my court day.

  13. I misplaced my traffic ticket and I don’t know my court date so can u please send me a copy of my ticket

  14. What is very alarming to me is the assumption of guilt by the county. I ticket is not an admission of guilt. Many of these people, me included just needed to show some proof of correction. As in my case, they lost the citation for 7 years. I had appeared at the court clerks office multiple times with proof of correction and was told there was nothing they could do because there was no record of the citation to post the correction against. Now the courts posted my ticket received in 2002 in 2010. I’ve moved to Florida and now im in california were I can ‘t get a license until this is cleared up. Sucks! any one got any advice?

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