An Oregon man said he was shocked when he received a letter this summer saying there was a warrant for his arrest and he owed more than $500 for a 2009 speeding ticket north of Hawthorne.
Robby Larsen, of Eugene. Ore., says he sent a $57 cashier’s check in 2009 to Hawthorne Justice Court. The United States Postal Service authenticated the letter in September, but said they couldn’t pull a receipt confirming the court received the letter because they don’t keep receipt records going back more than two years.
All charges, including the bench warrant, were dismissed Wednesday, but Larsen — who paid more than $1,000 in legal fees fighting the bench warrant — says that only happened after the Reno Gazette-Journal started looking into the case. He plans to file a complaint with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline alleging the court neglected substantial evidence proving he paid the ticket and attempted to bilk him out of $572.40 more than five years after he was cited for speeding in a rural area by a Walker River Tribal Police officer.
Hawthorne Justice Court Judge Jay T. Gunter says there is a reason the court waited five years.
Gunter said he hired Valley Collection Agency, of Glendale, Ariz., earlier this year to go over “two filing cabinets and four drawers full of warrants” dating back six years. In May, the collection agency made copies of more than 1,700 warrants and is in the process of following up on them, he said. Gunter estimates about 75 to 80 percent are for unpaid traffic violations.
“I don’t issue the citations,” Gunter said. “I don’t arrest anybody. It’s not my job. My job is to deal with the citation or the criminal charge. We are a court of limited jurisdiction. Bottom line is we can’t clear a citation without the payment.”
Valley Collection Agency declined comment when contacted by the RGJ
“This is willful disregard to account for court funds,” Larsen said. “The real story is the people behind the money, and what the courts do. How many people have the same experience I do?”
Gunter said the court’s previous collection agency “wasn’t very active.”
Violators are alerted 30 days after failing to appear, Gunter said. Bench warrants are $300 and can include additional fees, he said.
“Bottom line is we never received it (Larsen’s check),” Gunter said Tuesday. “He didn’t pay it as far as I am concerned.”
Last Wednesday, Gunter dismissed the charge. He could not be reached for additional comment Friday.
Hawthorne Justice Court deals with about 6,000 traffic violations each year in Mineral County from law enforcement agencies, including the Nevada Highway Patrol, Mineral County Sheriff’s Office and Walker River Tribal Police.
Larsen received the speeding ticket in a rural area north of Walker Lake in January 2009. He paid the ticket with a cashier’s check in 2009.
“‘They don’t want $57, they want ten times that, and I’ve had to hire attorney to fight these charges.’”
Larsen said the court neglected to examine the evidence he presented, which included a certified mail receipt from 2009 and a check that remains in Oregon’s unclaimed property database made out to Hawthorne Justice Court.
“That’s my check,” Larsen said.
Gunter said he could only remember one other instance where a check was lost in the mail.
“In this court, I’ve been in for eight years now, this is only the second time I’ve had this issue come up,” he said. Hawthorne Justice Court also provides an automated payment process by phone, Gunter said.
Robby Larsen, of Eugene, Ore., was cited for speeding in rural area just outside Hawthorne in January 2009. He sent a cashier’s check through certified mail to Hawthorne Justice Court paying the $57 citation in April 2009. In August this year, Larsen was notified through the court’s collection agency that they never received the payment and that there was a warrant for his arrest.
Larsen says Hawthorne Justice Court Judge Jay T. Gunter neglected evidence presented showing the fine was paid and the court didn’t act until after they were contacted by the Reno Gazette-Journal. He plans to file a complaint with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Ethics.
Larsen said the Mineral County District Attorney contacted him Wednesday and will not pursue charges. Hawthorne Justice Court confirmed the charges were dropped Wednesday.