Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Homeless Court Program

New Information on Homeless Courts
I know Volusia County  has been reviewing this issue to help with their Compliance/ Collections.
Is there anyone else currently using a homeless court or thinking about this?

Salt Lake City homeless court serves up pragmatic justice

Homeless Court Program
In 1989, San Diego started the first Homeless Court Program in the nation, a special Superior Court session held at local shelters for homeless defendants to resolve outstanding misdemeanor criminal cases. The Homeless Court was created in response to a survey where one in five homeless veterans requested help with the criminal justice system. To counteract the effect of criminal cases pushing homeless defendants further outside society, this Court combines a progressive plea bargain system, alternative sentencing structure, assurance of “no custody” and proof of program activities, to address a full range of misdemeanor offenses and bring them back into society. Alternative sentencing substitutes participation in agency programs for fines and custody. These activities include: life-skills, chemical dependency or AA/NA meetings, computer or English literacy classes, training or search for employment, counseling or volunteer work. The court agreement of “no custody” acknowledges the participant’s efforts in their program activities to satisfy Court requirements. Local homeless shelters and agencies are the gateway for participants to enter this Court. Homeless persons who want to appear before this Court must sign up through one of a number of local shelters. Prospective participants work with a shelter caseworker to design a plan to move towards self-sufficiency. The shelter representatives write advocacy letters for each client. The advocacy letter is symbolic of the relationship between the client and the agency while including a description of the program, the client’s start date, and accomplishments, programs completed and insight into the client’s efforts.
People experiencing homelessness often receive citations for public nuisance offenses and then fail to appear in court. Homeless defendants fail to appear in traditional courts, not because of a disregard for the court system, but due to their status and condition. For many homeless people, their day is consumed with a search for food, clothing and shelter. Most homeless persons are not in a position to fight the procedural or substantive issues a case presents. People experiencing homelessness are aware that the court also requires a decent appearance. Not wanting to make a bad first impression, a homeless person with poor hygiene or without a place to store belongings may choose not to appear in court at all. Many homeless people are reluctant to attend court given the uncertainty of court proceedings and the threat of custody. Unresolved legal issues can ultimately preclude homeless people from accessing desperately needed services such as employment, housing, public assistance and treatment programs.
The ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty and Homeless Courts:
The ABA Commission on Homelessness & Poverty has been instrumental in establishing homeless courts across the country. The Commission has developed a number of educational resources and routinely provides technical assistance. The has also approved policies related to homeless courts, including basic principles for homeless court programs.
Homeless Courts are presently operating in the following jurisdictions:
Homeless Courts are presently operating in the following jurisdictions:
Alameda County, CA
Phoenix, AZ
Ann Arbor, MI
Pima County/Tucson, AZ
Bakersfield, CA
Sacramento, CA
Bernalillo County, Albuquerque, NM
Salt Lake City, UT
Contra Costa, CA
San Bernardino, CA
Denver, CO
San Diego, CA
Fresno County, CA
San Joaquin, CA
Houston, TX
Santa Clara, CA
Humboldt, CA
Santa Maria, CA
Kern County, CA
Sonoma County, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Vancouver, WA
Maricopa County, AZ
Ventura County, CA
Orange County, CA
Many other jurisdictions are examining the possibility of creating similar programs, and the is pleased to offer technical support. For more information, please contact Amy Horton-Newell at the ABA Washington Office at 202/662-1693 or via e-mail at homeless@americanbar

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Circuit Court Clerk’s Office in Citrus County

The Circuit Court Clerk’s Office in Citrus County continues to implement ways to improve collections of court costs and fines and provides a very high level of service to the citizens of Citrus County.
They have had payment plans and payment by credit cards for quite some time. Several months ago they put in place an innovative program, ACH (automatic withholding authorization). This program has been highly successful and now has 130 participants. The small percentage fail rate is attributable to non-sufficient funds. They also have in place, GovPayNet http://www.govpaynet.com. This enables payees to utilize on line payments, once the Clerk’s office has established them on a payment plan.
In addition, the Clerk’s office is now collecting all probation court costs and fine payments which has resulted in a further increase in their collection numbers.
Anyone wishing more information can contact Angela Vick, Chief Deputy Clerk. Circuit Court Clerk’s Office Citrus County 352-341-6480 email is avick@clerk.citrus.fl.us.


Friday, March 23, 2012

The NCSCs is looking at "Tax Offset Legislation:  Accommodating the Indigent"
I would like some input from readers out there on how this would might impact Florida Compliance/Collections. States nation wide have been seeking legislation
to allow Federal income tax return intercept. This is the latest in that effort;
"The ABA and some other groups are lobbying us to change our bill so that it will not impact the indigent too hard. I wanted to get your opinion whether these two options this paper suggests would be easily implemented at the state level. If any of these would be easily implemented, we would probably support. Or, do you have any simple ideas outside of these 2 that will accomplish the same thing."

Tax Offset Legislation:  Accommodating the Indigent

The Problem:  The House of Delegates of the American Bar Association voted overwhelmingly to support a federal program to offset federal income tax refunds to non-indigent taxpayers by the amount they might owe to the state courts by virtue of a judgment entered in criminal or traffic cases imposing costs, fines, victim compensation, or other court fees.  While[A1]  the concept has been largely captured by legislation proposed by Senator Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Paulsen (R-MN), these bills do not have a mechanism to exclude indigent persons who owe money to state courts.
 Some states already make accommodations for indigents by providing for reduction of amounts owed or community-service alternatives at the time the judgment is entered against them.  Other states do not, and studies have suggested that even when means-testing has been incorporated into applicable state laws, the courts in those states may not be in full compliance.  This is of such concern to the indigent defense community that they are determined to halt progress on the tax intercept bills unless a better system is in place to assure that the federal government cannot intercept an indigent person’s tax refund  for the purpose of  paying past-due state court financial obligations,
 Nonetheless, the mechanism for addressing the challenge of accommodating the indigent must lie at the state level.  The Treasury Department’s Federal Management Service (FMS), which manages the collection of delinquent debt for the government through its tax offset program and other means, does not have access to tax return information to determine whether a person owing a payment arising from a state court judgment is indigent; privacy laws preclude the IRS from sharing such data with FMS or any other governmental entity.  Thus, even though the federal government can impose administrative fees for offsetting tax refunds[A2] , it appears to be unable practically to make a determination before tax refunds are issued whether the taxpayer qualifies for any exclusion to the offset program based on a means criterion.

 The Solution:  That some state court systems  (for example, Oregon and New York) already make a means determination at the time of imposing a fine or issuing a judgment covered by this legislation suggests that doing so is not administratively impractical.  Even so, at the time the debt is referred to the FMS, circumstances might have changed for the debtor.  Thus a system that fully protects indigents should operate as close as possible to the time of submission to the federal government for offset.
The legislation should include a requirement that, to participate in the offset program, a state must take measures to assure that the individuals whose names are being submitted for tax offset have met a specified threshold means test – that is, are not indigent according to a state-specified or bill-specified means test[A3] .
There are two potential ways for states to accomplish this: screen out indigents prior to sending out notice to individuals who owe state courts debts; or shift the burden to the debtor to prove indigency after he or she receives notice that an expected federal income tax refund will be offset to pay debt.  In either case, the following procedures would apply:

1.         The proposed legislation already requires states that desire to participate in the offset system to utilize a central state agency as the point of contact between the court system and the FMS.  The bill specifies that whenever practical, this should be the state agency responsible for collecting state income tax.  This agency will obtain the state court debt data either from a central office within the judiciary or from the various state court systems that will participate in the offset program.
2.         This central state agency will[A4]  have data tapes with the relevant information regarding each taxpayer who owes the judicial debt.
3.         Before the data are transmitted to FMS, federal law already requires, for all types of debt subject to offset, that each taxpayer receive notice of the pending action and an opportunity to contest or pay at the state level.  (This notice would likely be sent by the central state agency.)  That process would adhere here as well.
4.         In addition, however, the central state agency would also, as a condition of participation in the judicial offset program, have to certify that it has taken specified steps to exempt indigents from tax offset, which might include the following:
            a.   Method A.   The central state agency compares the judicial debt data with a list of persons participating in a state-based program providing benefits to indigents.  Congress can either designate which of the programs should be used or leave to each state the decision regarding which to use.
Those persons appearing on both lists would be removed from the judicial debt data set before it is sent to the FMS for offset against federal tax refunds.  The debt would not be extinguished or its validity affected; it simply would not qualify for collection via the offset program.
            b. Method B.  The central state agency sends notices to every individual whose name has been transmitted by a state court for tax offset.  The notice includes information about exemption from tax offset for indigents by stating that if the recipient currently is participating in a specified state-based program providing benefits to indigents, he or she will be exempted from tax offset if individual provides evidence of such participation within 60 days (instructions would have to be included).  Persons providing such evidence would be removed from the offset list.
5.         The following state programs benefitting indigents are among those that might be used as the basis for means-testing the offset list:  Medicaid; receipt of a state earned income tax credit; receipt of food stamps. (There may be others.)
It should be kept in mind that participation in the offset program is entirely voluntary for all states; however, only those willing to screen for indigency against a selected state poverty program or through some other workable mechanism will have the option of participating. 

To assist state judicial systems in determining the cost-benefit impact of participation in the offset program, FMS has the ability to run a pilot program for a sampling of states whereby the state would send its list of non-indigent persons who owe past due state judicial debt and FMS would run it through its system to determine how much money it could return to the state through tax offset.
Legislative language could be straight-forward.  For example, for Method A: 
Before any state submits any taxpayer’s name for offset under this section, that state must determine through a data match that the individual does not receive benefits pursuant to the [selected state program].  Failure to comply with this requirement shall result in exclusion of that state from participation in the program established by this act.

 [A1] Just the opposite--- it covers criminal, NOT civil fines.)
 [A2] What does this have to do with not sharing tax data?
 [A3] Fix language….
 [A4] Only a handful have state offset programs in place; “As is the case” generally does not apply

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