Crime may not pay, but fines and fees collected from lawbreakers help keep the lights on in the Oklahoma County courthouse.
In 2013, nearly $7.2 million was collected through fines, fees, third-party collections and state income tax return interceptions.
The total cost of operating the Oklahoma County courthouse — minus judge and various court clerk salaries — is $7.4 million a year, Court Clerk Tim Rhodes said.
Fines and fees collected at the county courthouse are actually used for a variety of uses.
The county pays for the majority of the courthouse operations, and funds collected by the court clerk are disbursed to approximately 40 other municipal, county and state agencies.
In 1997, Patricia Presley, then the court clerk, began a program to collect delinquent criminal fees through scheduled payments and by intercepting state tax returns for people who owed fines and costs.
“When I came to this office with her in 1997, we would pick up criminal files from 10, 15, 20 years before where nothing had been paid. The defendants ignored it,” Rhodes said.
“Criminal fines and assessments last forever. There's no statute of limitations on them. You can't bankrupt them. Anything on the criminal side, it's there until you take care of them,” he said.
Rhodes said that his office started intercepting criminal defendants when they made courthouse appearances, and judges sent them to the clerk's cost administration office to pay their fees. Many of those people also had fines and fees from previous cases that they were then ordered to pay.
The good news: no interest accrues on criminal fines. A $100 fine from a decade ago is still a $100 fine today.
In the past 16 years, $66.8 million has been collected by the cost administration arm of the court clerk's office, and another $6.5 million brought in from intercepted tax returns.
Starting in April 2011, the county also started outsourcing warrant collections to third-party agencies. Revenues from those collections have topped $4 million in less than three years.
About 6,300 cases have been paid in full from those third-party collections in the past three years.
“The new kid on the block is the third-party arrest warrant collections. It's a good program thus far,” Rhodes said.
“We're very proud of the program,” Rhodes said. “We work it. We have full-time staff that this is their job. This is what they do day-in and day-out in a very diligent way.”