36th District Court: Pay up or go to jail

DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) - The 36th District is making it clear they've had enough. If you owe them money they want to see you in court or have you pay your fines, soon.

"There is a culture that exists in this community and even among some of our past judges that when you come to 36th District Court you don't have to come with any money," said Chief Judge Kenneth J. King.

That's not the case anymore. Back in March, the court launched an initiative aimed at holding citizens accountable for any payments on outstanding tickets. We're talking tickets that go as far back as 10 years ago.

The court has more than $243 million dollars in unpaid ticket fees. $95 million of that debt owed is more than seven years old. That gives you an idea of just how serious they are in getting money owed back into city hands.

On this day, Chief Judge Kenneth J. King would hear from more than a half dozen people in what the court is calling "Show Cause" hearings. The idea behind these hearings is to allow people the chance to voice why they haven't paid their fines. Chief Judge King says these series of show cause hearings is just one piece of an overall bigger answer to collecting these past due fines.

"People come down. They get assessed their fines, they leave and we never hear from them again," Chief Judge King tells 7 Action News.  He says, "Even if their licenses get suspended and so forth they're willing to take their chances and get caught again."

Many of the cases we overheard were cases from 2007 in which people owed a lot of money and the court made it clear, pay up or go to jail.

So you may be asking yourself what happens next, especially to those people who don't show up or haven't shown up in the past? "We'll be going out and we'll be knocking on doors, bringing people in and I may even - if I get the authority to do so - start booting cars, seizing property whatever we have to do to get the message across," Chief Judge King told us.

Chief Judge King says if someone fails to appear not only is a bench warrant issued but they are also guilty of a misdemeanor.

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