Philadelphia courts, reversing a long pattern of lax financial collections, will aggressively go after more than $1.5 billion in forfeited bail, fines and restitution owed by thousands of defendants, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Starting Monday, courts will phase in a system to dun debtors and deploy collection lawyers to go after the worst deadbeats. Those who have not made arrangements to pay could find themselves facing liens, attached wages, even sheriff’s sales of their property.
The courts yesterday announced the imminent end of a “penalty-free period” to encourage more than 400,000 people to pay up. That program included a temporary waiver of the steep collection costs associated with pursuing such debt. It will be replaced by a three-tier program that steadily rachets up the pressure and penalties on debtors. “These people have been thumbing their noses at us,” said David Wasson, chief deputy court administrator. For decades, court officials have presided over an ineffective bail system that allowed accused criminals to skip court virtually without consequence. Defendants routinely failed to appear in court and just as routinely, failed to pay the forfeited bail that was supposed to come due as a result. As the Inquirer reported in November, the courts have been similarly lenient in collecting tens of millions of dollars in restitution owed to crime victims, and they have lagged in dunning criminals for millions more in fines and court costs.