New collection program captures more than $400,000 in past-due court fines, fees in first two months of operation
Roxane M. Geraci-Militello
County Executive’s Office (815) 740-8376
Circuit Clerk’s Office (815) 740-8042
JOLIET – Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, Will County Circuit Clerk Pam McGuire and Will County Executive Larry Walsh announce that a new program to collect past-due court fines and fees has recouped more than $400,000 in lost funding during its first two months of operation.
The state’s attorney and the circuit clerk late last year entered into a contract with Harris and Harris Ltd. and the law offices of Arnold Scott Harris to collect past-due court debts. The circuit clerk’s office worked with Harris and Harris during the first several months of this year to fine-tune the collections program before bringing it on line May 24.
In its first two months, the program captured $400,539 in fines and fees that will be distributed to Will County, local municipalities and the state. In past years, that money would have gone uncollected.
There are millions of dollars in past-due court debt dating back several decades. In 2005 alone, defendants ignored nearly $936,000 in felony fines, $246,000 in misdemeanor fines, $479,000 in ordinance violation fines and $6,600 in conservation violation fines. Collecting even a small portion of these past-due debts will assist county, municipal and state officials as they grapple with tight budgets.
“The Harris and Harris collection program already has proven to be a success,” State’s Attorney Glasgow said. “In two short months, the program has captured significant funding for Will County and its municipalities. In addition to enabling us to collect past-due debts, this program sends the message that defendants no longer can simply refuse to pay their fines and fees without consequence. Our expectation is that more people will begin paying on time.”
Circuit Clerk McGuire said: “My staff devoted a great deal of time and energy this year working with Harris and Harris to get this program up and running. Judging from the first two months of operation, it was time well spent. The money Harris and Harris has collected since late May finally can be put to use by the county, the state and local municipalities.”
County Executive Walsh and his staff first brought the proposal to hire a collections agency to the Will County Board in the spring of 2005. Glasgow and McGuire took responsibility for the selection process in 2006. In November of that year, the state’s attorney and the circuit clerk chose Harris and Harris, a respected Chicago-based collections business and legal firm, from among nearly a half-dozen candidates that had submitted proposals.
Will County budget planners acknowledged last year that the Harris and Harris funding is one of several new and untested revenue streams. As a result, money generated through this program was designated in the 2007 budget for tentative capital improvements and repairs that are conditional upon what is collected.
“We are pleased with the success of this new revenue-generating program and proud of the collaborative effort between our three offices in making it possible. The potential of applying the collected dollars for capital improvements and repairs is a definite highlight of the program,” Walsh said. “Circuit Clerk Pam McGuire and State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow deserve credit for recouping at least some of these funds that will benefit the county and other units of local government when they are paid. And it’s important to remember that the initiative is not costing the county one dime, as it is money owed by those who broke the law.”
Harris and Harris was selected for numerous reasons:
- The company currently provides this service for circuit clerks in both Cook and DuPage counties and comes highly recommended by officials from both counties.
- The collections business is affiliated with a respected Chicago legal firm, thereby ensuring a legal and ethical approach to retrieving past-due debts.
- The contract allows for the monitoring of collections activities over the Internet in real time, allowing Will County officials to make certain the county is being professionally represented and that those who are contacted about past-due debts are treated respectfully.
- Harris and Harris is in the Chicago area. All other candidates were based out-of-state.
- The team of professionals designated by Harris and Harris to service the contract exhibited an extensive background of experience and knowledge.
- The company helped to draft recent state legislation that enabled counties to add a small fee on top of past-due fines or judgments for collections purposes. The company is paid through the fee, which means local governments receive 100 percent of any past-due money that is collected.
Glasgow, McGuire and Walsh all noted that the majority of the people who are fined by our local courts pay their debts promptly. This program is necessary to collect fines from those who attempt to shirk their court-ordered financial obligations.