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Municipal court left more than $500K on the table in unpaid fees and fines

Editor’s Note: Over the past several days, The Selma Times-Journal has published a series of articles reviewing the report handed down to the city by the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, which reviewed City of Selma policies and practices between Oct. 1, 2015, through August 20, 2019. This is the fifth and final article in that series.

Among the myriad of policies, procedures and documents officials with the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts reviewed during the course of their months-long review of the City of Selma was court cases marked dismissed or open with balances due in the municipal court’s computer system. 

During their review, examiners selected 14 dismissed cases for review and found that six, more than 42 percent, could not be located; two cases were dismissed because there was never a complaint completed and turned in by the officer in the case; two were listed as dismissed but were still open pending final payment, despite the fact that there were no recent payments on cases, no warrant issues and no indication of follow-up by the court; four were properly dismissed.

Examiners also reviewed a municipal court “Balances Due Report” generated for Aug. 20, 2019, which showed 2,282 cases owing a total balance of $514,792.45 – officials reviewed 44 of the cases included in the report and found the following:

• Nineteen cases could not be provided by the magistrate for review;

• Twenty-four cases appeared to have outstanding balances because there had been no follow-up with defendants, many of which indicated that defendants had entered into payment plans with the court, which the court had no mechanism for enforcing;

• One case had been paid in full since the date of the report and the date of the review.

The report goes on to list a series of “other issues” observed during the course of the department’s review, including the discovery of a money order stapled to a bail bond transmittal form and an appearance bond.

According to the report, the document, which was uncovered on Oct. 30, 2019, was signed by the Chief Magistrate but lacked accompanying documentation indicating the offense because a case was not set up in the court’s system.

“The date on the money order found while we were reviewing case files is Aug. 30, 2018,” the report stated. “This means this money order was in the magistrate’s office 14 months without being recorded.”

The report goes on to state that this incident “is an example of the magistrate’s office not setting up cases properly but still collecting funds as payment.

The report also notes that examiners found a stack of unprocessed payments sitting on the magistrate’s desk, atop which was a bail bond fee transmittal form dated September 2018, roughly one year before it was discovered by examiners.

Examiners also reviewed monthly receipts and disbursements from the municipal court – testing October 2018, examiners found that the court properly recorded and deposited into the city’s bank account just over $9,760, but there were no disbursements made to other entities despite records showing funds had been collected for them.

The report goes on to state that funds collected by the municipal court were not “accurately disbursed” to other agencies and that funds owed to the city by other agencies were not collected due to errors in the general ledger.

Examiners noted the following in the city’s general ledger:

• A reclassification of $50,075.22 was recorded on Sept. 30, 2016, to the City Portion Fair Trial Tax revenue – the report states that the money is the culmination of Fair Trial Tax revenue collections payable to the state, but it was reclassified in the city’s books to a local revenue account;

• An accounts payable invoice was charged to the American Village Citizen Trust Fund in February 2019 for $1,371, but the city’s check register did not show a check written to this fund in the 2019 fiscal year;

• The city’s Bail Bond Fee Fund had an account with a balance of $66,143 due to other entities as of Sept. 30, 2018, which had not been paid out as of Aug. 20, 2019.

The report closes by noting that the city was not paying out amounts received from the court in a timely manner, with the city’s general ledger showing that balances due to other agencies were being carried over from one year to the next.