Submitted / The Outlook

Alexander City Municipal Court for Thursday has been cancelled and rescheduled due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Alexander City Municipal Court clerk Tiffany Patterson said municipal court was rescheduled for Feb. 3.

“With the increase in cases we feel like it’s in everyone’s best interest to cancel it for this week,” Patterson said. “We don’t want court to be the reason someone gets sick.”

Patterson also presented an idea to the Alexander City City Council to clear the municipal court’s records of open cases where fines have not yet been paid in full.

“We are owed roughly $1 million,” Patterson said. “Some of the fines due go back to 1999. I have done some research of other [municipal] court systems and found an amnesty week.”

Patterson said an amnesty week would allow those with unpaid court fines to take care of the issue and receive a discount.

Patterson said she has found a similar size town in Alabama — Gardendale — that has an amnesty program for its court fines.

“They do this once a year with great success,” Patterson said.

Patterson said the program would not apply to fines issued by the city court in recent years.

“We are going to focus on the 90s to 2019,” Patterson said. “At this point we have started a payment system plan. If they are paying on a regular basis, they are coming in and taking care of their debt like they should, it gets taken care of.”

Fines issued by courts do not go away with declaration of bankruptcy and Patterson said the amnesty program makes it easier for defendants when issues arise in other districts. Having unpaid fines without a payment plan in place can lead to more arrests.

“It is not a let's make money effort but we need to get this off the books and closed up,” Patterson said. “We have other entities call and want to know has this been adjudicated. We need to get this clean and try to get it closed out.”

Patterson said she would like to see an amnesty program in the third week of March.

“I would like to advertise the months of January and February and the first part of March,” Patterson said. “By law we can put their names out there. I don’t want to put what they owe or what they were charged with. I want to put the first letter of their first name and last name. They can call and check to see if it's them.”

Some defendants may benefit from the program and not have to pay anything else.

“We may find it was an error and we can fix it,” Patterson said. “It may have been paid not recorded correctly. We can fix it and that’s great. We just don’t know.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.

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