Several Million Dollars Owed To Gulfport

The City of Gulfport is owed millions of dollars in unpaid fines.

The money is due from defendants found guilty in city court on charges ranging from shoplifting to drunk driving to misdemeanor drug charges.

Judge David Ishee says it's time to get serious about collecting those delinquent dues.

Monday was Judge Ishee's first day as senior municipal judge. He spent the morning signing contempt warrants for several dozen people who owe delinquent fines. Judge Ishee says the issue involves more than money. It's also about respect.

He wants to get serious about collecting fines and says those who fail to pay are disrespecting the court.

"We can issue a criminal contempt citation. We can sentence them to jail for up to one day for every 25 dollars they owe. So, if you have somebody with 25 hundred dollars in fines, we can give them one hundred days," said Judge Ishee.

A new computer system will give a clear count of how much is owed and who is delinquent. The conservative estimate is four million dollars in unpaid fines.

"We've got several warrants officers and we're going through the paperwork now on the people we can run down. And I've told the warrants officers that's their number one priority to run down these people and bring them in," said the judge.

Officer Michael Schultz knows that's not an easy task. WLOX News accompanied him on a warrant serving trip to Orange Grove. The defendant he tried to serve owes more than 45 hundred dollars.

The person who answered the door claimed the man no longer lived there.

"If you have any contact with him, have him get in touch with us. Because he owes us a little bit of money down there. About four thousand dollars worth of money," said Officer Schultz to the elderly woman who answered the door.

"Locating the people is our main problem. False addresses and things of that nature. We run into a considerable amount of trouble running down the people and tracking down the people. And usually our fines are collected by hit and miss," said Officer Schultz.

Judge Ishee says there's apparently a perception on the streets that you can get away with not paying municipal court fines in the City of Gulfport. With the increased emphasis on delinquent fine enforcement and collection, he wants to change that attitude.

"I think once they realize that once you get a fine here you're going to pay it or you're going to jail, people are going to come in and start paying," he said.