close encounter with the law
By Karen Gardner
It all started with the dog. I have a large, black, ferocious-looking
German shepherd named Dude who cries like a baby when he is kept outside
the house for more than a few minutes.
But when I was packing to move from my house on Omar Circle in the summer
of 2001, Dude got out of the house and ran off on a little adventure.
Before I could find him, he was picked up by Greene County Animal Control.
Much to my dismay, when I went to get him, I discovered that not only
would I be charged for his stay at the pound, but I would be fined through
Xenia Municipal Court because I had neglected to renew his Greene County
With that bit of news, I went into the kennel area to find Dude. I was
so tempted to act as if I didnt see my beloved dog there and instead
adopt the cute little French poodle next to him. No charges, no fines,
just an adoption fee.
Of course, I didnt do that, and Dude moved with me to the new house.
Once again, he ran off, this time refusing to listen as I called him.
I now know that its a good idea to call the Yellow Springs Police
to report your dog missing, but at the time, I only thought to look for
him on my own.
Once again, Dude was taken to the animal shelter. When I went to get him
this time, they informed me that there would be a new charge of failing
to confine my dog, since he had been picked up twice in three months.
I knew I should have taken the poodle home.
I went to Xenia Municipal Court on a Wednesday morning, hoping to appear
before the judge and get the fine reduced. Bad idea. I sat in the courtroom
for over an hour, listening as Judge Goldie heard case after case. A man
who robbed a convenience store. More than once. He swore it was a mistake
and hed never do it again. I began to feel ridiculous sitting there,
waiting to talk about my dog. Then Judge Goldie started hearing cases
through a closed circuit TV from the Greene County Jail.
Id had enough. I asked the bailiff if I could just pay the fine
and leave. I paid, mentally adding up what Id spent on my dog. I
walked out to my car, relieved to have this headache behind me. Not quite
I had been there so long the meter had expired and I had a parking
Fast forward to October 2002. Ive locked my keys in my car for the
second time in a month. Feeling like a fool, I once again call the Yellow
Springs police department for help. Within minutes, a helpful officer
comes and jimmies the door lock. Im about to drive off when he comes
What? I ask jokingly, Youre trying to make sure
I dont do it again?
He answers: You wont believe this. Theres a warrant
for your arrest through Xenia Municipal Court. Did you fail to pay a fine?
I remember the dog incidents, but Im positive, absolutely positive,
that I paid both fines. He tells me Id better make sure I get it
I call the court and a woman in the office there assures me, in that we-dont-give-a-hoot-about-you-were-a-bureaucracy
voice that they dont have any record of my paying the fine.
I need to bring the receipt to clear it up. I think about the likelihood
that I will find a receipt from over a year ago.
What about a canceled check? I ask. I find out that might
work but Ill need to have my case heard before the judge.
I spend several hours over three evenings looking through old papers for
the receipt. Did I mention that Im not the most organized person
in the world?
Of course, I cant find the receipt, so I look through my checking
account. I find a check around that time without the name recorded. I
go to the Credit Union to find the original. No, it was to the cell phone
Meanwhile, I get a parking ticket. The same police officer stops by my
house to see whats happening with my fine. Youd better get
it cleared up, he says. If I get stopped outside of town, they might just
haul me into jail.
Suddenly, I remember the possibility of paying with a credit card. I find
a Visa statement with a payment to Xenia Municipal Court. Im home
free! Then I realize the payment was made before I moved. It was for the
I decide to give up and just pay the fine. It seems to me I must have
gotten confused and thought I paid the second fine when I only paid the
first. I call the Xenia Municipal Court, (will they start recognizing
my voice?) to ask how to go about paying my overdue fine.
They tell me I cant just pay the fine now, theres a warrant
for my arrest because I have a charge of failure to appear
before the court. I have to appear before the judge. They tell me I can
do this during open court, on Monday and Wednesday mornings. I can try
to see the judge at other times, the woman tells me, but if Judge Goldie
isnt available, they might just hold you in jail until she
can see you.
I suddenly feel quite paranoid about driving outside of Yellow Springs.
I joke about the ridiculousness of all of this with friends, but Im
I go to open court first thing Monday morning. This time I take a book.
There are more than 30 people in the courtroom, waiting. I sit patiently
as Judge Goldie listens to the young man who was driving while intoxicated
with no insurance and no plates on his car. There is an air of impatience
mixed with fear among the people waiting. I am the last person to be called
up. I explain my confusion as Judge Goldie listens. She seems concerned
but bored. Im fined $75 more, plus court costs. Turns out it would
have been another $100 if Id been taken to jail.
One more step. Im escorted into the area where you pay your fine.
Im horrified to see many of the people from the courtroom still
waiting. The man next to me explains that there was a warrant for his
arrest since 1998. I didnt even know I owed money, he
says. They brought me in last night from Dayton and put me in jail.
My mother had to pay $500 bail to get me out.
I suddenly feel lucky. I pay up and get out of there.
And what did you learn from all of this? a co-worker asks
me, sounding like a second-grade teacher.
I learned a lot. I learned that you should take care of bureaucratic messes
as soon as possible because they will come back to bite you. I learned
that my dog is lucky to have a home. And I learned once again that Im
glad to live in the bubble we call Yellow Springs.
Karen Gardner is the publisher of the Yellow Springs News.