A program that allows the state to put a hold on vehicle registrations of people who are delinquent on court fines is cutting into a $385 million backlog of unpaid fines.
And more East Valley courts are signing up for the program, known as Fines/ Fees and Restitution Enforcement, according to judges.
Chandler Municipal Court has brought in roughly $120,000 in revenue since Feb. 5, when it joined the program that is administered by the state Administrative Office of the Courts, according to Chandler Presiding Judge Michael Traynor.
Mesa’s computer technicians are working with their state counterparts to get the city’s municipal court linked to the program, said Mesa Presiding Judge Matias Tafoya.
And while both cities have had aggressive collection programs of their own, including the ability to intercept state tax refunds, they didn’t have the ability to suspend car registrations to force people to pay up, but they can now with the program.
"This is just a natural step that is a next step we’re taking. All of the things we did previously that have been successful for us are continuing," said Traynor, whose court has a backlog of about 12,000 cases dating back about 12 years and represents $5.6 million in unpaid fines.
Michael DiMarco, fiscal manager for the program, said it also intercepts tax refunds and works with a collection agency to track down scofflaws, but the "crown jewel" of the program is the one where the Motor Vehicle Division can put a hold on registrations.
"You’re now really affecting somebody when you say they can’t touch that vehicle," DiMarco said. "People want and need their vehicles."
The Traffic Ticket Enforcement Assistance Program has been in place since October 2004 and 85,000 holds have been placed on vehicles and 11,000 holds have been lifted, 99 percent of which were lifted because the debt was cleared, DiMarco said.
Those are people who owed $200 or more and didn’t respond to notices.
Judges are quick to point out that the program isn’t just about money, but to get people to respect the court and laws of the state.
"Any amount that hasn’t been accounted for is important because that represents someone who hasn’t met their responsibilities," said Judge Ted Armbruster of Fountain Hills Municipal Court, which started the program May 5 and has a backlog of 630 cases and $474,000.
There are 24 courts statewide involved, most of them small courts in northern Arizona and the West Valley, but the Apache Junction Justice Court is set to join June 5 and Guadalupe Municipal Court July 5. Phoenix Municipal joined the program March 5 and brought with it $318 million in unpaid fines.