Court problems could cost Lubbock thousands - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

9/1/09

Court problems could cost Lubbock thousands

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By Ben Lawson  - bio | email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - It's money the city should get to keep, but problems at Lubbock's Municipal Court could cost thousands.  The problem is with procedure. Texas requires certain courts to follow the Collection Improvement Program.  It's meant to improve the collection rate, but local governments have to follow specific rules.  NewsChannel 11's has learned the city's on notice it's not in compliance and hasn't been for some time.

If the city doesn't fix the problem, they could forfeit fees they would usually get to keep, and Mayor Tom Martin tells us nearly $300,000 is at stake. "It's the paperwork reporting that's required to go to the state that apparently is not being done," Martin said. 

He tells us he learned of the problem in mid-August, when the Office of Court Administration sent him a letter. It states Lubbock's Municipal Court is not following state requirements and reads 'If your city is not in compliance, it could continue to forfeit certain fees it would ordinarily be able to retain'.

The city would usually be able to keep 10% of money collected for the state as an administrative fee, but the state required Lubbock and Lubbock County to implement a Collection Improvement Program in April 2006. It requires courts to follow critical components when collecting fees and the OCA says Lubbock's Municipal Court has some technical issues concerning documentation and verification that haven't been met, and that's costing the city.

"For the first quarter of this year, they withheld $97,000 that should have come back to the city as the 10% administrative fee," Martin said.  He says the city also lost out during the second quarter, to the tune of $90,000. "We're now two-thirds of the way through the third quarter, and we apparently are still not in compliance, and so by the end of this quarter, if we're not in compliance, that's probably another $90,000, so now we're talking $270,00 plus," Martin said. 

The OCA tells us they've evaluated municipal court procedure, and feel confident if crews follow their recommendations, they'll be in compliance with the state. Martin tells us they've asked Municipal Judge Robert Doty to the council's next meeting to address the problems.

The good news, Martin says once the city is back in good standing, they should be able to recoup the money. "Once we do that, we should receive the back revenue," Martin said. 

The Texas Comptroller's Office does the audit that determines if a court is following the rules. Martin expects their next audit to be sometime after October 1st. 

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