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10 Cities Sue Ventura County for Part of Drunk Driving Fines

August 24, 1989|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

All 10 cities in Ventura County have joined in a lawsuit against the county over distribution of drunk driving fines.

The lawsuit, filed last week by the Ventura County Assn. of Cities in San Mateo Superior Court, demands a share of the estimated $1.2 to $2 million in fines that the county collects each year from convicted drunk drivers.

The cities claim that they are entitled to the money and need it for local police patrols.

The county however, maintains that it is entitled to keep all the money because it pays for a formal probation program for convicted drunk drivers. A state law allows counties to keep the money in their general fund if they launch such programs.

Elizabeth Silver, a San Leandro attorney who successfully represented the 18 cities of Contra Costa County in a similar lawsuit over distribution of court fees, filed the lawsuit for the Ventura County cities.

It asks county officials to account for how they spend the money collected from fines, to return funds collected after September, 1987, and to split future funds with the cities.

The suit was filed in San Mateo because the cities feared a possible conflict of interest by Ventura County judges and because Silver lives and practices in the Bay Area, said Bob Heitzman, Simi Valley's deputy city manager.

Cities formerly kept about 85% of the fines collected from convicted drunk drivers, but they have not received any substantial money since September, 1987, when the county launched its probation program and began keeping the fines.

Cities question the extent of the county's probation program. They say it consists mainly of a group meeting and a mailed follow-up report. They claim that one probation officer handles as many as 1,491 offenders, and that the county uses part of the money for Ventura County Medical Center.

The county says that 12 new probation officers have been hired, and that state law allows the Board of Supervisors to allocate drunk driving fines as it sees fit.

About 7,500 people a year are convicted of drunk driving in the county, each paying a $1,200 fine.

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