Under the plan, the courts, which administer the bail program for defendants, will send out several dunning notices to debtors, post their names on the Web - and eventually turn their cases over to private debt-collection firms if people don't pony up.
The campaign has a phone number - 215-683-1482 - that debtors may call to work out a payment plan. All money collected is to go to the general city treasury, which funds most of the courts' operation.
Earlier in the day, Nutter joined other political leaders in heralding steps to tackle another entrenched problem in the Philadelphia criminal justice system - rampant witness intimidation.
As had been announced, Nutter reiterated that the city, despite its fiscal woes, had found $200,000 in extra funding for the witness-relocation program of the District Attorney's Office. That would boost the program's current budget nearly 30 percent, to $895,000.
Nutter also disclosed that the city planned a series of neighborhood "summit meetings" over the summer to deal with issue of uncooperative or fearful witnesses - especially how to stamp out the "stop snitching" culture that discourages neighbors from giving information to police and prosecutors.
At the same morning news conference, State Sen. Anthony H. Williams and State Rep. Brendan F. Boyle, both Philadelphia Democrats, said the entire city delegation would push hard to increase overall state funding for witness protection. About three-quarters of funding typically has gone to Philadelphia.
Williams said the goal was to boost annual statewide funding to $1 million, from $885,000. Even if this goal were met, state funding would still be under its recent peak, $1.3 million in 2007.
The issues of the uncollected $1 billion bail and of rampant witness fear were both raised as part of Inquirer coverage of the Philadelphia criminal justice system.
Until the newspaper asked for an accounting, court officals had no idea how much money was owed by fugitives.
The broad outlines of the campaign to collect the bail money were made public Saturday in an article in The Inquirer. On Monday, Dembe acknowledged that the campaign would not collect the full $1 billion, a debt run up by fugitives who have skipped court over the last four decades.
Some of the debtors will be impossible to track down, others will be in prison, and still others will be penniless or dead, officials say.
Even so, Dembe said, "even a very modest return on our collections efforts of 1 [percent] or 2 percent of $1 billion would be of enormous financial help to the city."
Under the court's pretrial program, most defendants have been released to await trial after paying 10 percent of their bail amount and signing an IOU stating they would pay the remaining 90 percent if they failed to show up for court.
In reality, however, the courts have never actually sought the remaining sum - not even when the fugitives resurfaced later to have their day in court.
Critics say this toothless system explains why Philadelphia has had one of the highest fugitive rates in America. The most recent comparative federal study found that the city was tied with Essex County, N.J., home of Newark, for having the worst fugitive rate.
Because the main court administration recently took over the operations of the clerk of quarter sessions - a key record-keeping arm of the judicial system - court officials say they now are in a better position to go after forfeited bail.
The clerk's office had no computerized list of bail jumpers, only paper notations in individual files. To get around that, court officials have extracted names from the database of civil judgments.
Dembe said she was unsure whether the courts' current system for releasing defendants to await trial needed to be overhauled.
"I don't think we can say whether it's an adequate system or it's not," she said, "until we get a chance to drill down" and see how the latest changes are working.
Contact staff writer Craig R. McCoy at 215-854-4821 or email@example.com.