McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

October 2, 2013

District court clerk’s office sees increase in collections

ENID, Okla. — Garfield County District Court Clerk’s Office is one of a handful in the state that has increased its collections of fines, court costs and operational money over last year.

The clerk’s office is $57,773 further ahead in collections than it was in 2012, with $875,711 collected so far this year. At this point last year, District Court Clerk Margaret Jones’ office had collected $817,938. Garfield County is one of 19 counties that have increased collections since last year.

Since 2008, there had been increased emphasis on collections of money owed to the office.

The District Court Clerk’s Office has streamlined its cost administration program, begun taking credit card payments over the phone and has used an Oklahoma Tax Intercept Program.

Garfield County was among the first counties in the state to be authorized to participate in a pilot cost-collections program, the Aberdeen Collection Program. That program is implemented when bench warrants for failure to pay have been issued.

Information on unpaid traffic tickets is forwarded to the collection agency 30 days after the date the warrant was issued. Criminal cases are sent to the program within six months of the warrant being issued.

The Court Clerk’s Administration Program, operated by Keri Ratliff, requires defendants to make a payment of the first $500 of costs the day of a plea. A monthly payment plan ensures tracking of payments and re-evaluation every six months keeps the court and defendant informed of the progress.

District Judge Dennis Hladik said defendants who cannot pay their costs may conduct community service in four-hour increments at a rate of $7.25 an hour to repay their costs.

Jones said she was proud of her “outstanding” staff and the work they do.

“I am extremely proud of the office,” she said. “Proud of the work everyone does. They are thorough and diligent in pursuing every avenue to ensure a large number of cases with costs due are being responsibly paid.”

She said increasing the amount of collections was a “joint effort” between agencies at the courthouse.

“It’s the entire staff working with all other agencies, the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office and our judges.”

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