Rhea court clerk eyes collecting legal fees

Rhea court clerk eyes collecting legal fees

February 21st, 2011 by By Kimberly McMillian/Correspondent in News

DAYTON, Tenn. - When Jamie Holloway ran for Rhea County Circuit Court clerk last August, he knew he needed to take a closer look at the $2.1 million in uncollected court debt.

After five months in office, Holloway said he'll try to recapture as much of the money as possible. But he said some is probably out of reach, particularly that associated with convicts serving lifetime prison terms.

Holloway said convicted felons, those with fines and court costs ranging from $50,000 to more than $70,000, likely would not repay those fees.

"There's no recourse for not paying," he said.

As for the $2.1 million debt, Holloway said that amount has accumulated for two decades.

"Not all the money's owed to the county," he said, explaining that state fees are allocated and also included in that figure.

Last spring, the Rhea County Purchase and Finance Committee sought bids from collection agencies after a Winchester, Tenn., agency failed to corral the escalating debt.

Bids from GILA and Nationwide, out-of-state agencies, were reviewed by committee members and District Attorney General Mike Taylor as the two possible choices.

Last June, the committee agreed to vote for a collection agency but never did. Two months later, Holloway replaced Regina Metts as court clerk.

Taylor had said that his office or the clerk's office was required by law to collect the fees, but the former court clerk's office didn't have the money or manpower to do so.

Last week, Holloway echoed Taylor's comment. Hiring an individual, he said, could result as an "investment with no return" by the time the costs for letters sent to all debtors and the manpower to collect fees are calculated.

On Thursday, Holloway said that he hadn't heard about "any debt agency hired."

Graham said he didn't know if the issue had been pursued.

"I don't know where we stand, but (the committee) would go along with what he (Holloway) wants," Graham said.

Holloway said violators could be forced to repay restitution costs for property stolen or damaged, and that would help minimize the debt.

He said he is "evaluating the most cost-effective way" to tackle the problem.

Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at kdj424@bellsouth.net