Flagler County Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth declared the first amnesty of its kind a success.
“At the end of today we have collected $25,385, reinstated 20 drivers licenses and have 79 eligible for reinstatement from other agencies,” Wadsworth said at close of business today. Wadsworth was referring to Operation Greenlight, which allowed anyone with an overdue fine for any sort of infraction or crime to pay it off today, without having to pay the collection fee, which usually tacks on an additional 40 percent. Anyone who’d been carrying such debts going back to the mid-1990s was eligible to pay it off. Wadsworth had tabulated 7,000 such cases totaling $1.9 million in overdue fines.
The operation may be repeated in future years, depending on how it went in the rest of the state. At the Flagler County Courthouse, Wadsworth had set up a giant traffic light, set on green, inside the first floor counter where people could go to pay off their fines.
“I think it was a pretty good day,” Wadsworth said.
The previous story is below.
Clerk of Court Offering 1-Day Amnesty To Pay Off Overdue Fines Without Collection Fees and Restore Driver’s License
Last November Palm Beach County Clerk of Court Sharon Bock experimented with a new idea that’d been devised through the state clerk association: for one day only, anyone who’d been issued a fine, including traffic tickets, and had seen that charge go to a collection agency and accrue interest, could come into the clerk’s office and pay it off—free of collection fees, which can add up to 40 percent of the fine. People who’d had their driver’s license suspended could also have it restored.
The Nov. 8 experiment in Palm Beach closed 1,700 cases, restored 400 people’s driver’s licenses and brought in $800,000.
Now the experiment is going statewide in what clerks of court, including Flagler’s Gail Wadsworth, are calling Operation Green Light. The amnesty day in Flagler and across the state is Friday, April 17. Hours in Flagler will be extended for the occasion, stretching between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Wadsworth says her office has tabulated 7,793 cases that have gone to a collection agency. Of those, 4,507 are civil traffic cases. The total amount in collections for Flagler County is—to be precise–$1,872,973.91.
Those figures account for cases that go back to the mid-1990s. This is the first such state-wide initiative, with 61 of 67 clerks participating.
The numbers lead to an arresting conclusion: Of those thousands of traffic cases, almost all mean that the person behind the number is driving—if that person is driving at all—on a suspended license, as charges by law go to a collection agency if after 30 days if an individual has made no effort to contact the clerk’s office and either partially pay the fine or set up a payment plan, if the individual is unable to pay in full. Once the state-issued Uniform Traffic Citation goes to a collection agency, the license is suspended.
“So you go through this whole process of those 7,000 cases-plus, most of them are driving on a suspended license,” Wadsworth said. “This is our public opportunity to not [assess] the 40 percent collection fee, to come into us and pay what they owe the state court system only, and we will help them get through the process of reinstatement. Sometimes we can just do it, other times, if it’s a criminal traffic citation or if they have a traffic citation in another county, we can’t do it all right then, but we can guide them to do that.”
Many drivers ticketed in Flagler are from out of the county or out of state: that’s the case with any jurisdiction with an interstate running through it. Clerks don’t expect much success with out of towners. For the rest, it is essential that the ticketed individuals themselves show up for the transaction. The clerk will not accept third-party checks or emissaries doing the payment for someone else..
“I started sending things to collection in early 2002,” Wadsworth said, “and at that juncture the statute of limitation applied so we could go back seven years and we did. So we went back to 1995, and we started with civil traffic because that’s where the highest volume of traffic was.”
The legislature eventually lifted the statute of limitation so clerks could go back as far as they could find people. “But pretty typically we haven’t,” Wadsworth says. “Flagler County hasn’t gone back further than the 1990s. You have to validate it all. I, Gail, have to prove it to me that through all of the paper and software conversion we’ve gone through, that our numbers are sport-on. So we’ve broadened the case types we send to our collections providers using the time frames allowed by law. But I’d b be very hesitant to go back further than I can prove.”
As for the money collected, it will not go into Flagler County government coffers. At least not yet.
The money will go to Tallahassee, through the clerk of courts’ operations conference, and will be distributed as the law requires: some of the clerks around the state that had shortfalls this year will benefit, as will the police agencies that issued the original tickets (they always get a share), as will state programs related to public safety or c rash-related injuries. Some of the money will eventually trickle down to the clerk’s office, but it’s not clear how much, just as it is difficult to estimate how much Operation Green Light will bring in on April 17. But Wadsworth said she’ll have a tally within days of the experiment.
Another slap in the face to the law-abiding citizens who ponied up and paid the fine for their mistake while those who didn’t get a slap on the wrist and reprieve from prosecution. How about instead on April 17th, a sting is run to nab these offenders and fully revoke their licenses for life and when they get caught again, some jail time. Harsh some will say, but what is your life or the lives of your loved ones worth. Being lenient with those who break the law never brings a good outcome.
ted bundy says
so why are the 7000 not in jail with their cars impounded? the law, is the law..
“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist.
Nancy N. says
By “law-abiding” jtflagler, what you really mean is “financially secure”. Because the only difference between the people being offered amnesty and people who paid their fines is that one group had the money to pay the fines and one didn’t. They ALL broke the law and were issued tickets. Having the money to pay the fine doesn’t erase that and make you “law-abiding”. It just makes you a law-breaker with enough money to buy your way out of trouble.
Debtor’s prisons are alive and well in this country, fed by the elitism of people like jtflagler and ted bundy, who somehow seem to think that having money makes them good and not having money makes other people evil. It is not a crime to not have money. Or a moral failing. Despite what the conservative right tells you.
Newsflash – your moral character is not determined by the amount of money in your bank account. Need proof? Take a stroll down Wall Street.
FYI, Some people may have been in jail connected with their ticket making it impossible for them to make the necessary payment within the allowed 30 days. So I think amnesty is the right thing to do I have never been in that situation but I think this makes sense and the state finally gets what’s owed to them.
Some people may have been in jail related to their ticket so amnesty makes sense as the state gets whats due to them and people get their license reinstated. I have never been in that situation but think its a great idea.
I’m a law abiding citizen, I got a red-light ticket(a truck was riding my tail and if i stopped at the yellow light I would have probably been rear-ended), it’s very hard for me to come up with the funds to pay for it when I’m living paycheck to paycheck. That does not make me a bad person, this would help me very much. So, before we go point fingers let’s take a deep breath and think of situations that some people might be in.
David B. says
I thought being allowed to drive was a privilege. To many people really take advantage of the system, and can not take on the responsibility of what it really means to be law abiding. So tired of those idiots on the roads who drive with no insurance, no driver licenses, unsafe cars, and no respect for the law, or other motorists.
So the same people who rant about Big Government are just fine with the state “allowing” us to use the roads and facilities we paid for? Because if it’s not a Right. it can be withheld by the whim of any petty bureaucrat. And we are granted the Right to support our families, but I defy anyone born of modest means and average ability to earn an income that will allow him to feed, clothe and shelter a family without a drivers license in America today.
I salute Gail Wadsworth for the extra effort she does in this and other matters to assist the citizens of Flagler county in dealing with the unfathomable maze of Florida bureaucracies.
Just saying says
Actually, if the state says you can’t drive on the roads the state owns, it’s the state’s wishes. Just like if I tell you get off my property, it’s mine and I can have you removed. If you want to call it a right, you absolutely have the right to drive around your own property without the state having any say. You don’t have the right to trespass on my yard or field.
Nancy N says
You are forgetting that because this is a republic that “the state” is actually owned by every single citizen of this country, which means that when “the state” tells you to get off of the roads, they are telling you to get off of your own property.
This isn’t a monarchy where “the crown” owns public property and that crown is held by a single person. “The state” is ALL OF US. The government is not some big corporation that can do what it pleases. It has to shareholders – all of us citizens.
They were probably driving on suspended licenses and without insurance. It’s the Palm Coast way! That and bolt when in an accident.
keeping it real says
.01 percent of the tickets got paid….still a failed system if u ask me
Take their Licenses says
Palm Coast drivers are “dirtbag idiots”. I’ve seen better driving in Singapore . Road rage is about to get real serious here this summer. Remember to use your camera’s and carry a weapon if you value you life and your family’s lives.
Nancy N says
You aren’t kidding about the road rage. I had to dial 911 about a week ago after someone from my neighborhood tried to run me off the road because they felt I sat too long at a stop sign before pulling out. Apparently driving carefully in this town is grounds for attempted vehicular assault.
ted bundy says
sounds about right to me!!!
Will (#1) says
Kudos to Nancy Nally and Norton Smitty for writing logically and compassionately. Well said.
And congratulations to Gail Wadsworth for bringing in some money and closing some cases. Well done.
Good luck to others who still need to settle their accounts. It can be hard if you have nothing to watch a special offer like this go by, but it happens.
#1 Gator Fan says
Wadsworth didn’t declare amnesty day in Flagler County so don’t go getting that warm,fuzzy feeling. This was a state-wide program. Wadsworth can’t take credit for this to make her look good.