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Civil court cracking down on PFA fees


February 19. 2013 7:06PM
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Luzerne County's civil court office will be cracking down on people who don't pay court-ordered fees for protection-from-abuse cases.


Art Bobbouine, who oversees the civil and criminal records offices, said the county is owed about $100,000 from 2010 through this year to date.


We'll go after them to the fullest extent of the law, said Bobbouine, who recently briefed county council on the plans. This is money owed to the taxpayers and is something we should pursue.


The $108 fee was designed to cover the office's costs for processing the PFAs, and judges have the ability to waive the fee or order payment by the filer or accused -- or both, he said.


Advance payment can't be required because there is a concern someone with a valid fear cannot pay, he said.


In instances where there is truly an emergency, you don't want a victim of domestic violence to have issues paying up front. Usually fees get put on the defendant, he said.


About 800 people owe fees dating back to 2010, he said.


The civil court office, also known as the prothonotary's office, mails at least two reminders if initial bills are unpaid, he said.


We're only getting about 20 percent paying, said Bobbouine, who is in the process of rounding up outstanding bills dating back to 2003 as part of the collection plan.


People who owe will receive one more bill and then a letter from the county solicitor's office, he said.


The county will accept payment plans, he said.


Bobbouine said he's researching whether judgments can be filed against those who ignore the additional payment reminders.


Judgments record unpaid claims on credit reports, he said.


The county's criminal court has the option to file judgments against criminal defendants who owe more than $1,000 in fees and fines, he said.


Bobbouine said he's particularly concerned because some owe fees for multiple PFAs.


If they get away with it the first time, they won't worry about it the next time, he said.


County Interim Sheriff John Robshaw said judges also can order PFA defendants or filers to pay a $48 fee for his office's work serving documents to the accused.


These service fees were waived on 646 of the 1,252 PFAS filed this year to date, he said.


Robshaw said his office collected $17,079 for service fees this year and is owed $12,000.


In another effort to boost revenue for the cash-strapped county, the criminal court office, also known as Clerk of Courts, may raise fees, Bobbouine said. Fees can be raised every three years, and that office hasn't imposed an increase in at least seven years, he said.




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