Malibu Municipal Court, which up to now has collected fines in cash, last week began allowing violators to use credit cards to pay fees and fines.
The credit card system applies to all violations, from drunk driving ($680) to fees for filing civil cases ($34), according to Robert J. Steiner, administrator of the court.
Steiner said that about 25,000 people a year pay the Malibu court at total of more than $2 million in fines for traffic and parking violations, jaywalking and beach littering, and in fees for various court services.
"We do not expect very heavy use of the credit system," Steiner said, adding that no one had charged anything in the first two days the credit card service was available. "But there obviously will be occasions when violators will want to use the system."
He mentioned "urgent situations" like time running out on payment of a traffic ticket or a violator short of ready cash. "We see it as a convenience to the people," Steiner said. "If the system works, we will keep it. If it doesn't, we will scrap it."
Malibu is one of several courts in the county setting up credit card charging. Van Nuys was the first, followed shortly by Glendale. Others, such as municipal courts in Torrance and Valencia, are readying installation of the system.
California is one of 16 states in which courts allow credit cards, according to ComData Network, the Nashville, Tenn., company that operates the Malibu court credit card system.
ComData supplies all the credit machines and credit slips free to the court. A variable fee, paid to ComData, is imposed on the person making credit card purchases.
Fees are $5 for the first $50, and $1 for each additional $50 up to $150. After that, the fee increases in $2 and $3 increments. "All we're doing is allowing people to wire money to themselves and charge it to Visa or MasterCard," said Herb B. Barrett, government relations manager of ComData.
Barrett said that charge card use in law enforcement agencies and other governmental bodies is on the increase.
Fearing a potential loss of business, some bail bondsmen have given ComData "some flack" about the system, said Russ Bowden, a company salesman.
He said such fears are unfounded, noting that most fines paid on credit were small, not requiring the use of a bail bondsman.
"Besides," he said, "most people in big trouble don't have a big line of credit."