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Fine collections up… Insurance law affects Justice Courts

By Staff
CHECKING THE TICKETS n Angela Rigsby, left, Joyce Jernigan and Darlene Mayo of Lauderdale County Justice Court review tickets that have been turned in. Photo by Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
By Sheila Blackmon and Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
March 12, 2001
Mississippi's new mandatory car insurance law is increasing fine collections in Justice Courts across East Mississippi.
As of the first of the year, people caught driving without proof of insurance could be ticketed and fined up to $1,000. Ticketed drivers could reduce that fine to $100 by buying car insurance before their Justice Court date.
Lauderdale County Justice Clerk Darlene Mayo said the new law is making a difference.
Mayo said drivers also have to clear older outstanding fines before being allowed to buy car insurance.
In some East Mississippi counties, this has meant a significant increase in the amount of fines collected in February.
There is an increase in fine collections in Lauderdale County Justice Court, too, although Mayo could not attribute it directly to the new law. In February of 2001, $105,233 was collected, as compared to $88,437 during the same month last year.
In Kemper County, the difference since the law went into effect has been noticeable.
Windham and Deputy Clerk Lillian Mitchell normally send notices out to try and collect delinquent fines, but in October, people began coming in voluntarily to pay them.
The oldest delinquent fines she has collected date back to 1982. She said most are fines for speeding, but fines for driving without a license and not having a car tag are also common.
She and Mitchell collected $16,795 in old fines last month up from $12,334 this time last year.
Neshoba County's fine payments almost doubled in February as compared to the previous year, according to Justice Court Deputy Clerk Kim Hardin. Last month, $60,801 was collected as opposed to $36,418 in February 2000.
Hardin said fine collections in an average month range between $40,000 and $45,000. She said some of the fines collected date back to 1987 and 1988.
Teresa Smith, a Justice Court clerk in Clarke County, said she hasn't noticed a big increase because of the mandatory insurance law.
The Clarke County Justice Court clerks have been sending out letters, trying to collect fines, Smith added.
Wayne County Justice Clerk Georgia Vaughn said it is hard to gauge the effect of the new law in her office because of an extra effort her staff has just initiated to collect fines. In February, they brought in $36,728, an increase of $7,031 compared to last year.
Vaughn's window clerks said between 10 and 20 people have mentioned it in recent weeks.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor The Meridian Star. E-mail him at