New judge, same problems at DeKalb traffic court

New judge, same problems at DeKalb traffic court

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Lost records. Backlogs. Chaos.

They're all words used to describe the DeKalb County Recorders Court. That's the court that handles traffic tickets.

Now, a new chief judge says she's cleaned up the mess in the three years she's been there. But, as the I-Team's Dana Fowle discovered, that doesn't mean the experience is by any means problem-free.

Judge Nelly Withers is in charge now and she will tell you – just ask – that January 1, 2010, marked the arrival of a new sheriff in town. She's done quite a bit to bring the DeKalb Recorders Court into the modern age. But, there are still people in a jam with old tickets that haven't been resolved.

Steffani Beaudoin Hall said, "No one knew where I should be or where I should go."

Hall's trying to resolve a traffic ticket – from seven years ago. First, she says she was told it was dismissed. Then, it wasn't. A trip to four different courtrooms later and Hall's understandably frustrated. It's been a painfully long journey to pay a 2006 traffic tickets.

She said, "I came down, paid that ticket, they lost that information. So, I came back and paid for it a second time, and I kept my records and seven years later they come back asking me to pay for it a third time. "

Judge Nelly Withers said, "Boxes of old tickets that had, were still unopened, that nobody had done anything about or had try to bring closure to."

That is, until Chief Judge Nelly Withers took over. When she walked in, she got tough. She says she had to.  They only closed about 50 percent of the cases annually -- creating a huge backlog.  

The judge says the case closure rate now is above 95 percent. She gave Fowle a behind-the-scenes look at building remodeling , as she went over how she is fixing the system.

Judge Withers said, "In every single area we have gone in and attempted to improve, figuring out what we have been doing wrong, historically, the 10 years before we got here. And, changing it."

Fowle spoke with the chief judge about Hall's unresolved traffic ticket.  She says records show Hall claimed for years the tickets didn't belong to her. Hall says the court's records are wrong, again. The judge is not swayed, but will concede one thing:  the old system let Hall down in this case.  The judge agreed that  seven years is too long to get a resolution to a traffic violation.  

"There was no procedure in place on '09, '07...  '05, '03," the judge said. " There was no procedure in place. It got lost in the system. It wound up in that room that was like the record room with records stacked floor to ceiling, with file after file of file of tickets that were in limbo."

When it came time to review Hall's case, the court no longer even had a copy of the citation -- just a blank screen.  Case dismissed.  

When asked if she feels better about this, Hall said, "A little bit. It's an all-day wait. Hopefully it never comes back up again. I got paperwork to prove it.  I will keep this the rest of my life."

Judge Withers says she's so serious about getting DeKalb County's troubled system back on track, that once a year she gives her staff a test to make sure they know how it all works.

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More Info:
DeKalb County Recorders Court
Address: 3630 Camp Cir, Decatur, GA 30032
Phone:(678) 483-8478
Hours:
 - Monday    8:00 am – 4:30 pm
 - Tuesday    8:00 am – 6:30 pm
 - Wednesday    8:00 am – 4:30 pm
 - Thursday    8:00 am – 4:30 pm
 - Friday    8:00 am – 4:30 pm
 - Saturday    Closed
 - Sunday    Closed

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