November 28, 2002

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Scared straight—
My 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 license.

With that bit of news, I went into the kennel area to find Dude. I was so tempted to act as if I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 it’s 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 he’d 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.

I’d had enough. I asked the bailiff if I could just pay the fine and leave. I paid, mentally adding up what I’d 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 ticket.

Fast forward to October 2002. I’ve 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. I’m about to drive off when he comes back.

“What?” I ask jokingly, “You’re trying to make sure I don’t do it again?”

He answers: “You won’t believe this. There’s a warrant for your arrest through Xenia Municipal Court. Did you fail to pay a fine?”

I remember the dog incidents, but I’m positive, absolutely positive, that I paid both fines. He tells me I’d better make sure I get it cleared up.

I call the court and a woman in the office there assures me, in that “we-don’t-give-a-hoot-about-you-we’re-a-bureaucracy voice” that they don’t 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 I’ll 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 I’m not the most organized person in the world?

Of course, I can’t 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 company.

Meanwhile, I get a parking ticket. The same police officer stops by my house to see what’s happening with my fine. You’d 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. I’m home free! Then I realize the payment was made before I moved. It was for the first ticket.

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 can’t just pay the fine now, there’s 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 isn’t 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 I’m also nervous.

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. I’m fined $75 more, plus court costs. Turns out it would have been another $100 if I’d been taken to jail.

One more step. I’m escorted into the area where you pay your fine. I’m 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 didn’t 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 I’m glad to live in the bubble we call Yellow Springs.


• Karen Gardner is the publisher of the Yellow Springs News.