If you are one of the thousands of people with outstanding traffic citations in California who has tried to take take of it only to run into a nightmarish mess of useless automated customer “service”, long lines, inaccurate information, and unfriendly court collection employees, chances are you have had the great pleasure of meeting either the GC Services or the AllianceOne Collection Agency. GC Services handles traffic court collections for Los Angeles COunty traffic court, and others, while Alliance One handles San Diego County and others.
They are private capitalist companies, not court employees.
After years of dealing with them at www.TrafficCourtPros.com, we’ve done our best to figure out who they are, how best to deal with them, and most importantly, how to avoid them. Here’s what we’ve learned:
When you miss a court date or fail to pay a fine on time, the court can do a number of things, including adding a new misdemeanor charge of failure to appear, issue an arrest warrant and suspend your drivers license under authority of California Vehicle Code section 40509.5.
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But increasingly, courts are doing all of that and more. They are also sending the bill for the full bail on a citation to a collection agency.
The task of these collection agencies is to collect the overdue fines on the citations, in exchange for taking a percentage as a collection fee. Because of this arrangement, they are very resistant to cooperating with the court staff to help you deal with the problems of a drivers license suspension, or warrant. If you solve your problem with the court, they don’t get paid.
At the courthouse, these collection agencies present an image of being court employees, and as the only option for dealing with a citation once the deadline has passed. They have their own window in many clerks officers, and their own employee cubicles. Frequently, the easiest way to find the collection window is to look for the longest line at the court clerks office.
But in reality, employees of GC Services and AllianceOne are not court employees. Everyday thousands of people wait in court clerk lines at courthouses only to get to the court clerk telling them that they need to stand in the (longer) collection agency line.
|Collection agency employees are not trained by the courts. Frequently, they have no formal training on the court’s procedures and rules at all, and do not have full access to the court’s files. Because of these characteristics, their knowledge about your problem and know to fix it is very limited.|
If you’ve searched for their web site in an effort to get help, or tried to call their TOLL FREE customer “service”, you’ve already discovered that they are not interested in providing on line access to your account, on line help, or real live trained personnel to answer your questions. As far as we can tell, it is their goal to limit your options and to frustrate you to the point where just paying in full – preferably after waiting in line for a long time – is your only option.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN DO IF YOUR CASES ARE IN “COLLECTIONS”?
Just because your case was sent to a collection agency does not mean it is over. The court does not lose control over your case when it is sent to collections (if the collections agency tells you cannot go to court, they are not telling you the truth).
You can still demand a court date, and appear in court to defend the case(s), or ask the court for an extension based upon a special circumstance. As long as you have not plead guilty, you can even have a trial if you want one. You are still entitled to have a court appearance and to request that your fines be reduced or spread out over time. If you qualify for traffic school, you can still request a referral to protect your driving record.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU JUST PAY THE COLLECTION AGENCY?
In most failure to appear cases a court appearance is required. But in some cases a collection agency such as GC Services or AllianceOne will claim you have to pay them the “full bail” on the case to end it.
If you just pay the collection agency the full amount they claim you owe, you will end your case. But:
- You are admitting guilt and will be convicted of everything in the file (including the failure to appear charge);
- You will lose any chance you had to get the case dismissed completely;
- You must pay all of the full bail amount at once, before the license hold is cleared;
- Your drivers license will not clear until the agency gets around to processing the case and notifying DMV;
- You will lose the opportunity to attend traffic school and protect your driving record from “negligent driver points”
Because of this, my opinion is that paying the collection agency is the slowest and most expensive way to get convicted of everything.
If you do speak with a Collections Agency representative – here are some key questions to ask:
1) do I still have the right to a court date;
2) do you set court dates over the phone (they do);
3) what is the citation number that you claim I owe for; and
4) are you sitting in a US or foreign cubicle?
But don’t accept what they tell you as true. The best way to deal with a collections case is to go to the court clerks office in person and ask for a court appearance. Get there early – 8 am is the best at most courts. Calling the court clerk and asking if you can have a court date is also a good way to double check the info the collection agency gives you.
It is important to note that some courts will transfer a citation to the Franchise Tax Board for collection. That is a different path altogether, and the above does not apply to the Franchise Tax Board cases. We’ll have more on that in a later posting.