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Monday, May 2, 2016

Public Record filings present more than they appear

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Every so often, residents look in the paper and see a long list of small claims filings naming the Clay County Commissioners in numerous lawsuits.

However, the commissioners are not the ones actually suing residents.

In June 2005, the Commissioners signed a contract with the Terre Haute law firm Sacopulos, Johnson and Sacopulos to allow their collection agency to collect money from tickets, fines, court fees, restitution and other reasons of which money was owed to the county.

"Because the commissioners signed the contract to make Corvee, Inc., the collection agency, the commissioners name comes up on the official filings," Clay County Clerk Mary Brown said. "It does not mean they are the ones suing residents."

Currently the county is collecting fees and fines on tickets written in 2003 and 2004, some of which are for people who live out of state which got traffic violation tickets while passing through the county.

For child support fees that are owed, the county sends out an annual statement of what is owed, and gives multiple chances to pay before passing the bill on to the collection agency.

"In most cases, residents come into the courthouse to pay their fees," Brown said. "However there are a few that we have to pass on in order receive payment."

All of the support fines and fees go directly back to the county into the General Fund.

According to a letter written by Michael J. Sacopulos, of Sacopulos, Johnson and Sacopulos, to County Attorney Eric Somheil, the collection agency has collected over $65,000 in fines and fees owed to the county from the beginning of the signed contract through the end of June 2007.

"A big upside is that the collection agency goes after the amounts owed directly to the county first," Brown said. "Once they have collected that portion, then they go after their attorney fees."

When it comes to the cost of any court filings, particularly in criminal cases, a common misconception is that the money goes directly to pay the salaries of county officials.

"Of the $160 cost for criminal cases, only $17 goes toward the payment of judicial salaries," Brown said.

For each filing, $120 is accounted for by the criminal cost fee, of which 70 percent goes back to the state. Of the remaining 30 percent of the fee, 27 percent, along with any fines, goes into the County General Fund, while 3 percent goes to Brazil City. Also, $3 of the total filing fee goes to the agency which made the arrest.

"Also, there is a state law which states the county can pass on any or all collection fees to the defendant whenever the case has to go to the collection agency," Brown said. "However, none of these additional fees come back to the county. They are paid directly to the collection agency."

By hiring the services of a collection agency, the county has been able to operate more efficiently.

"Being able to pass delinquent cases to the agency has kept the county from becoming backlogged with unresolved cases," Brown said. "Although it has created the thought that the commissioners are suing everyone, the service has been a great help in not only county business, but by bringing money to the county in a more timely manner."

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