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DECATUR: Judge responds to closing Recorders Court early | News

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DECATUR: Judge responds to closing Recorders Court early
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DECATUR: Judge responds to closing Recorders Court early

DECATUR, Ga. -- The head judge of DeKalb County's Recorders Court has provided some answers following complaints of suddenly closing early last Friday, although it is still unclear who gave the order and how much time and attention was given to letting the public know in advance.

A clerk at the Dekalb County Recorders Court handed over the following statement from  Chief Judge Nelly Withers,

"The regularly scheduled business of the court was concluded prior to the early closing of DeKalb County Recorders Court on Friday afternoon, July 1, 2011. No one who had a hearing, or a scheduled appointment with court personnel was inconvenienced.  Notices of the early closing were placed at each parking booth earlier in the day.  Anyone wishing to pay a ticket could have done so after the court closed by placing the payment in the drop box, or by paying over the phone, or on-line via the web.

Anyone who came to reinstate a license at this court had either received a notice from the Department of Driver Services that they had an active suspension for a failure to appear in this court, or had received notice that a warrant had been issued for their arrest for a failure to appear. Less than 15 people were turned away by the early closing. This court handles over 200,000 citations a year."

Interestingly, when the county sent a later version of the judge's comments the line "Notices of the early closing were placed at each parking booth earlier in the day" was eliminated. 

On Friday, the DeKalb County Recorders Court shut down, locking people out, two hours early, at 2:30 instead of at 4:30, apparently without any notice. 

"I mean, I wanted to get my license so I could enjoy my weekend," said one DeKalb County resident outside the locked doors. "Now I've got to sit in the house. Don't make no sense." 

The video accompanying this story was shot by a DeKalb County resident, a former TV news producer, who showed up at court at about 2:30 to pay a traffic ticket, only to find the doors had just been locked and Sheriff's deputies turning away a steady stream of surprised people who had also expected to conduct business with the court. He went back to his car and retrieved his small video camera to document what was going on. 

Another person trying to pay a fine, a woman named Cheryl, sat outside frustrated, telling him on camera that she had even called ahead, on Friday morning, and was told then that the Friday closing time was 4:30, as usual. 

"I got here at 2:45, thinking I had time," but someone at the door told her, "they're closed early. It was a last-minute decision that they close early. Crazy." 

Two other women stood outside the locked, glass doors not knowing what to do, pointing to the sign that clearly shows that the Monday - Friday closing time is 4:30; that sign was right next to a small, paper sign taped on the inside of the glass saying the court closed at 2:30 and would not reopen until 8:00 Tuesday morning. 

One of the women carried a cashier's check, to pay a fine. 

More people continued to arrive, walk up to the front door, realize the court had closed early, and leave, often shaking their heads. 

DeKalb County Sheriff Tom Brown said it was Chief Judge Nelly Brown who gave the order to shut down the court early.

11Alive News has asked to speak with both Withers and the court administrator when they return to work Thursday.

This is the same Recorders Court that, in December, 2010, was inundated with people complaining they were being charged with not paying their traffic tickets -- even though they had paid them. 

It's the same Recorders Court where, two years ago, employees were caught taking money under the table to fix tickets. 

Now, the court is barely able to conduct routine business because of budget cuts and staff cuts, according to the latest Chief Judge, Nelly Withers. 

And on Friday afternoon the court simply shut down and locked up early. 

When the DeKalb resident with the home video camera asked deputies why, a supervisor outside the main entrance ordered him to leave. 

"I'm not going to answer you," said the supervisor. "Now I'm fixing to ask you to leave my property." 

"You're asking me to leave public property?" 

"No, this is police property. I'm asking you to leave my property, yes, Sir."

Sheriff Brown confirmed Tuesday that he had seen the deputy's actions on videotape. 

"He could have used better words. It's public property.  [The resident]  had a right to stay there and  the deputy should have just went inside, closed the door, locked it and called it a day," said Brown.

Brown said he would leave it up to the deputy's immediate supervisor to talk to him about other ways the situation could be handled, but also said the deputy would not be reprimanded in any way. 

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