Drew County District Court Judge Sara Hartness and District Court Judge-elect Bruce Anderson issued separate news releases this week to clear up confusion about some 1,500 delinquent notices that were mailed out by the district court clerk.
Anderson in a news release on Wednesday said the purpose of the letters was to bring unpaid fines to the attention of individuals reflected in court records as owing the fines and to encourage action by the recipients before collection efforts were made by the court.
“My understanding is that the court will take no enforcement action concerning these letters this year,” Anderson said. “When I take office on January 2, 2017, I will not issue warrants for, or to suspend drivers’ licenses of, individuals who received letters until I have had an opportunity to review the court records and discuss this matter fully with court staff — this is so I will make informed decisions.”
Anderson said he expects it will take several weeks to review the records and discuss the matter with his staff.
“The purpose of the letters was to bring the attention of recipients to unpaid fines and to encourage action by recipients before collection efforts were made by the court,” Anderson said. “Anyone who feels he or she wrongly received such a letter has time to contact the court office and explain why. I have asked court staff to direct such contacts and explanations to me when I assume office.”
Hartness, who said she was unaware the notices had been mailed until she began receiving phone calls from the recipients, issued her own news release on Friday to clear up confusion about how the notices went out.
During the transition into Anderson’s upcoming term, Hartness said she had deferred to Anderson certain decisions that would affect his court. The new chief clerk sought authority from Anderson to send out the notices and failed to mention it to her.
“Judge Anderson, lacking the historical knowledge of the District Court’s Office and our computer system, authorized the issuance of those letters prematurely,” Hartness explained. “Once the notices were brought to my attention I instructed all of the clerks in that office not to take any action without a judge — either myself or Judge Anderson — having had an opportunity to review each file individually.”
In light of the situation, Hartness said she has scheduled a special court session for December 28 at 8:30 a.m. to review as many of the files as possible in the short time she has remaining.
“If anyone has received one of these notices, I will be on the bench that day,” Hartness said.