Bail jumpers are city’s new target

Bail jumpers, beware. The city courts are coming for you.

Officials launched an initiative yesterday to collect roughly $1 billion in bail from about 200,000 people dating back to the 1970s. It is another in a long line of collection efforts for the cash-strapped city, which is trying to plug a $37 million deficit for the year ending June 30.

In coming weeks, the city will hire a law firm to handle the collection process and go after fugitives who owe for skipping. A courts spokesman said they had no plans yet for contracting bounty hunters to help with the effort. The city also will offer payment plans to those who need them and will even consider forgiving some debts, said Pamela Dembe, president judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

Mayor Michael Nutter said the decision to go after bail jumpers has nothing to do with the city’s finances, but is a result of the long-awaited change to move the function from the Clerk of Quarter Sessions to the Court of Common Pleas.

“If we were completely flush with cash I can assure you we would still be doing this, but it’s exacerbated by the worst recession since the Great Depression,” Nutter said.

Councilman Frank Rizzo questioned whether the city is being too ambitious by going back 40 years.

“It doesn’t make sense going back 40 years and expend the time,” Rizzo said. “Focus on the ones you can really collect from.”

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