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Downey : Ticket Payments Misrouted

February 05, 1987

A computer error caused hundreds of payments for traffic tickets to be sent to a New York address instead of Downey Municipal Court, which resulted in arrest warrants for some area residents who tried to pay their fines on time.

Thousands of "courtesy notices" sent to drivers cited in Downey, Norwalk and La Mirada were printed with the wrong ZIP code, Court Administrator Elaine Osborne said. Instead of carrying the Municipal Court's nine-digit ZIP code of 90241-0049, the computer dropped the first four digits, which left 10049, a New York City code.

The error affected notices sent out Oct. 3 until last week, when the computer program was corrected, Osborne said. Most of the payments were eventually received.

"Some of them made the round trip in two days, and some of them in seven days," Osborne said.

But others took longer. Julie Shaw, 30, of Norwalk received notice last month that a warrant had been issued for her arrest. She used a courtesy notice to pay a $64 fine for making an illegal left turn on Dec. 19.

Shaw said she sent in the fine six days before it was due, only to find it had gone to a bank in New York. She said she had to pay $178 bail on the warrant, but won a refund after taking her case to a court commissioner.

"What would have happened if between the time I got down there (to the courthouse) they had hauled me into jail?" she asked.

Osborne said she did not know how many people were affected, but she said the court processes between 4,000 and 5,000 tickets a month and about a third of those cited pay their fines by mail. While exact numbers were not available, arrest warrants were issued for other drivers who tried to pay on time, Osborne said.

Court employees have been working to determine which warrants were valid and which resulted from the computer error, Osborne said. "If there have been warrants issued they will be delayed, or it will be recalled to avoid any arrest," she said.

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