Cheaper to pay than to fight

Posted: February 13, 2012

NOT EVERYONE'S debts get wiped from the books.

In fact, legal advocates say, it doesn't happen for most people who are wrongly targeted for payment of delinquent court costs. A typical story, they say, would be like that of George James.

James, 60, a truck driver from Northeast Philly, says he recently found out he owed more than $900 for various court costs from the 1990s. But the court's records are wrong, he says, because his wages were garnished for a year to pay the debts.

James was unable to find documents proving that he paid his debts. He says he threw out his pay stubs years ago. And he grew scared after a collection agency for the court threatened to take away his driver's license, he says.

"That's my livelihood," says James.

So he entered into a $30-a-month payment plan for the debt.

"If I appeal it, it's going to cost me at least $1,500 for a lawyer," he says. "So I'll probably be better off just going along with the deal."

But paying the extra bill each month, he says, "is going to be tough for me."

- Holly Otterbein

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