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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: legal financial obligations

$100 reward for debt of $40 per month

A man wanted for not paying his court fines has a reward being offered for his capture that is greater than his monthly payment amount.

Joseph Patrick Brian, Jr., 34, is behind on payments for fines imposed for four felony cases between 2001 and 2005.

Brian owes just $90 to pay off one of the cases and is required to pay $40 a total of month for all four. Crime Stoppers is offering $100 for tips that lead to his arrest. He is a repeat offender so the amount is double the usual reward for fugitives.

Brian's lack of payments has been addressed in court five times since 2007.

No-bail warrants in each of the cases - attempt to elude police, second-degree theft, first-degree possession of stolen property and first-degree criminal impersonation - were issued in September. Crime Stoppers offered a reward for tips that lead to his arrest last week.

Spokane County's legal financial obligation has been criticized as an endless system that punishes the poor. The state Supreme Court ruled a previous system unconstitutional because people with court debts were not allowed to a new hearing to gauge their ability to pay.

A lawsuit has been filed to determine how those who were subject to the unconstitutional system can be compensated.

Brian, 5-foot-9 and 145 pounds, last gave an address in the 400 block of South Maple Street. Anyone with information on his current location is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or submit tips online.

Jail-for-court-debt process sparks suit

After crashing into another car during a police chase in 2001, Spokane resident Lisa Orvis served eight months in jail and was ordered to pay $24,000 restitution.

 A decade of accrued interest later, she owes the county $70,000 and has spent seven or eight stints at the Spokane County Jail for nonpayment.

Orvis doesn’t dispute that she owes the money. But she questions the legal process that put her in jail without a lawyer or a chance to explain herself.

“I never saw a judge, and I never went to any kind of hearing,” said Orvis, 45.

The state Supreme Court ruled that system unconstitutional last summer.

“What they haven’t ruled on is how all the hundreds of people who were jailed unconstitutionally should be compensated,” said Spokane lawyer Breean Beggs.

Beggs filed a complaint against Spokane County this month in U.S. District Court on behalf of Orvis and everyone else jailed under the county’s previous court collection system. A judge will determine whether it can proceed as a class-action suit.

Read my full story here.

Past coverage:

May 24, 2009: Debt to society

Court ruling brings relief to court debtors

Offenders who owe court fees and fines are no longer being forced to agree to a pre-determined jail sentence if they fail to make scheduled payments.

The Washington state Supreme Court has ruled that people with court debts are entitled to a new hearing to gauge their ability to pay.

Someone who lost his or her job, for instance, or who was hospitalized might be given the chance to make a new payment arrangement and avoid automatic jail time, said Scott Mason, an assistant Spokane County public defender.

Read the rest of Jody Lawrence-Turner’s story here.

Past coverage:

May 24, 2009: Unpaid court fines land convicts back in jail

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