Unpaid Helena Municipal Court fines total more than $3M

Unpaid fines, fees and restitution ordered by Helena’s Municipal Court have piled up in excess of $3 million, straining city services, local taxpayers and victims attempting to put their lives back together, a city court official said.

The Montana Legislature curtailed municipal courts’ ability to collect in 2019 with a law prohibiting the suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment.

Helena Municipal Court Judge Anne Peterson said while she agrees with the Legislature’s decision, “over all, the court doesn’t have a lot of teeth.”

The issue surfaced during a recent city commission meeting.

The court is not intended to be a revenue generator, but the fines and fees collected are used to support the departments to which they are attached, Helena’s Finance Director Sheila Danielson said in an email Thursday. For example, fines collected as a result of animal control citations help fund animal control operations.

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Helena Municipal Court, 406 Fuller Ave.

Phil Drake, Independent Record

Some fines and fees fund court operations as well.

“Regardless of whether we collect outstanding fines,

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