Court error nearly lands senior behind bars

July 27, 2011 11:40:11 AM PDT
A 75-year-old woman is relieved because she's no longer worried about going to jail. What started as a misunderstanding over 10 cents nearly lead to a warrant for her arrest.

The municipal courts department is not completely automated as you might think. There are people there who still process tickets; in fact, they process more than 1 million a year. So when we started asking questions, we learned a clerk sent the senior's ticket citation in the wrong direction, and it gave her the scare of a lifetime.

It was at the intersection of Monroe and the Gulf Freeway where Carol Dillman got her first ever traffic ticket.

"And I'm 75 years old," she said.

The ticket was for a seatbelt violation.

"I didn't have my seatbelt on so I decided to pay my fine," Dillman said.

She thought she had taken care of it quickly until she got a notice warning that she faced a warrant for her arrest.

"I was so upset, I cried all day," Dillman said.

Dillman sent a check for $150 on July 4, which was cashed, to cover the fine for the seatbelt violation. Since, though, she's learned she was 10 cents short. In fact, the notice shows an outstanding balance of a dime. Her grandchildren have given her a nickname.

"They're calling me the 10 cent bandit," Dillman said.

But she's more concerned about how a police officer might see her.

"I'm afraid to drive because if they stop me for something crazy then they can arrest me," Dillman said.

So we took her concerns to the municipal courts department.

"When we learned of this situation, we immediately had a judge reveiw the case," Deputy Director Nelly Santos said.

Santos told us the notice was just a warning, not for the 10-cent shortage, but for a second citation for failing to appear in court.

"We would have accepted that payment," Santos said.

Santos says it never should have gotten that far.

"There was a human error on the part of one of our staff members that the person did not properly process the case," Santos said.

So since our inquiry, the judge dismissed the additional citation and closed Dillman's case.

"We apologize for any inconvenience," Santos said.

That is exactly what Dillman had hoped for without all the agony.

"Actually for all the crying and everything, I think the city owes me some money," Dillman said jokingly.

The clerk who made the mistake, we're told, has been told to be more careful. The court says there are a number of checks and balances that would have prevented Dillman from ever being arrested, but her story is a good reminder that if you think the court has sent you something in error, don't be afraid to call 3-1-1 or contact the court directly.

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