Encouraging Compliance with Relicensing Programs: Fine Reduction Program in Yuma County, Arizona

What if there was a way to bring in revenue and close older court cases while giving defendants a path toward driver’s license reinstatement? Many state court systems are currently developing relicensing programs that encourage defendants to re-engage with the courts and fulfill their financial obligations. This win-win for courts and defendants was a reform effort recently implemented in Yuma County, Arizona.

In the spring of 2017, people with unpaid or balance-due traffic tickets from Yuma County’s limited-jurisdiction courts had a one-time opportunity to close their cases through a limited-duration fine-reduction program. This program was, in part, prompted by a series of reforms resulting from the Arizona Supreme Court’s Justice for All Task Force report, Justice for All: Report and Recommendations of the Task Force on Fair Justice for All: Court-Ordered Fines, Penalties, Fees and Pretrial Release Policies, released in August 2016.

The Fine Reduction Program (FRP) offered a 50 percent reduction in fines, penalties, and surcharges in eligible delinquent cases during the program’s limited duration. Defendants could pay the reduced amount in full or request a payment plan. The program goals were twofold: 1) allow defendants who are eligible to have their licenses reinstated and 2) fulfill monetary obligations in delinquent cases.

Participants with eligible cases could enter the program from February 13 to April 21, 2017. During this time, 820 cases entered the program. Of these cases, 560 had their reduced balance paid in full and 260 cases were placed on payment plans. A total of $159,830 was collected during the eligibility period. Cases with payment plans have been monitored, and as of September 20, 2017, an additional 100 cases with payment plans have been paid in full and $40,348 collected.

Yuma County Before the Fine Reduction Program

Yuma County is in the southwestern corner of Arizona, bordering California and Mexico. It has seven limited-jurisdiction courts. These courts have been sending their delinquent cases to the statewide Fines, Fees and Restitution Enforcement (FARE) Program for collections since 2008.

During the Arizona Supreme Court’s Justice for All Task Force meetings in 2016, the Honorable Maria Elena Cruz, then the presiding judge for the Superior Court of Yuma County, expressed interest in implementing a fine reduction program for her county’s limited-jurisdiction courts with the assistance of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), Consolidated Collections Unit.

In October 2016, the Supreme Court of Arizona authorized the AOC to partner with the limited-jurisdiction courts in Yuma County to pilot a collection program pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute §28-1601E, Arizona Supreme Court Administrative Order 97-57, and Arizona Code of Judicial Administration §5-205.

Before the program’s start in mid-February, the courts had total FARE receivables of $15.7 million (about 24,600 cases), with approximately $8.3 million (about 14,000 cases) eligible for the fine reduction program. In October 2016, Presiding Judge Cruz, Yuma County Superior Court Administrator Kathy Schaben, managers and judges from the seven courts, AOC staff, and the FARE vendor staff began working together to design a program to fit the needs of the population in Yuma County.

Unpaid Receivables (as of 2/10/17)

Court Total Cases % Total Receivables %
Yuma Justice Court 12,566 51 $7,064,132 45
Somerton/San Luis Justice Court 1,372 6 $998,188 6
Wellton Justice Court 2,482 10 $1,592,445 10
Yuma Municipal Court 6,217 25 $4,696,056 30
Somerton Municipal Court 1,454 6 $982,212 6
Wellton Municipal Court 388 2 $283,504 2
San Luis Municipal Court 168 1 $97,396 1
Total 24,647 100 $15,713,993 100

Program Scope and Design

Cases that were eligible for the Fine Reduction Program were civil-traffic cases, with no restitution owing, that have been in collections for at least 24 months (on or before December 1, 2014). Cases with criminal charges or driving-under-the-influence (DUI) charges were not eligible for this program. A list of eligible cases meeting the program’s criteria was created by the AOC IT Department. This list was then sent to the collections vendor. The vendor conducted skip tracing on the eligible cases to retrieve updated addresses so an eligibility letter could be sent to defendants.

Defendants with eligible cases received a special notice in mid-February regarding the one-time offer of a reduction in financial assessments. The notice indicated the specific case, the court’s name, and the duration of eligibility. If the defendant agreed to enter the program, the court suspended 50 percent of the balance, and then the defendant either paid the reduced amount in full or entered a payment plan.

Eligible participants received notice in three ways: written notice, auto-dialer calls, and press releases that directed the public to a website with the published case list.

FRP Eligible Cases/Receivables (as of 2/10/17)

Court FRP Eligible Cases % Eligible Receivables %
Yuma Justice Court 7,517 53 $3,884,438 46
Somerton Justice Court 907 6 $609,935    7
Wellton Justice Court 942 7 $543,810 6
Yuma Municipal Court 3,610 25 $2,557,727 30
Somerton Municipal Court 1,053 7 $687,601 8
Wellton Municipal Court 127 1 $85,092 1
San Luis Municipal Court 68 0 $31,930 0
Total 14,224 100 $8,400,533 100

The duration of eligibility was 60 days from the mailing of the notice. Within that time, the defendants had to appear in court to enter the program and begin their payments, or work out other arrangements with the court if they were not able to appear in person (e.g., phone conference or email).

Eligible defendants with phone numbers were notified using an auto-dialer system. This system pulled data from eligible cases and then issued a prerecorded message, in English and Spanish, when either a person answered the phone or a voicemail system picked up. More than 4,800 calls were placed in late February 2017.

English and Spanish press releases went out in two cycles, about a week apart. The release contained information about the program and informed the public about the eligible-case list that was posted online at Yuma County’s website. Defendants were instructed to appear at the court associated with their case number to enter the program.

The reduction amount was calculated using programming in the courts’ case management system. The lower-priority receivables were suspended as part of the fine reduction, and the highest-priority receivables remained in the case. Any driver’s license holds associated with the case were lifted, if eligible. Collection activities, such as collection notices and phone calls, were suspended on eligible cases during the program.

Results from Fine Reduction Program

Taking into consideration the age of the cases, the collection efforts already underway at these courts, and the large number of cases deemed “uncollectible” due to bad addresses, the collection of $159,830 during the program and the closing of 560 cases was deemed to be a success by the courts. The 820 cases in the program represent about 9.7 percent of the eligible cases, and the money collected represents about 6.5 percent of the eligible collectible receivables (after the 50 percent discount).
It appears that the program spurred some defendants to take care of their delinquent cases, even those who had never made payments on their cases or had not made payments for more than five years. Data collected after the program showed that 57 percent of the cases had no payments before the program start date, and 13 percent of the cases had no payment in the five years preceding the program.

Additional Program Benefits

An unanticipated benefit of the program is that it prompted additional payments above and beyond the program. This may have been due to defendants with ineligible cases, who came to the court upon hearing of the program, working with court staff to become re-engaged with the court, and making payments on their cases. Looking at data comparing the FRP time period to the same time period last year, there was an 82 percent increase in the number of payments and a 41 percent increase in the amount paid. Even when the FRP data are removed, there was still a 20 percent increase in the number of payments and a 3 percent increase in the total amount paid.

At the San Luis Municipal Court, the magistrate gave payment plans and license-suspension releases to defendants who appeared in court, but were not eligible for the Fine Reduction Program. This resulted in another 39 defendants having their license suspensions lifted and being placed on payment plans. The court collected more than $8,000 in down payments.

Program Costs

Developing and implementing the Fine Reduction Program cost approximately $26,000. The FARE vendor, Conduent, spent $16,500 on notices and postage. The AOC expended approximately $9,600 on staffing and automation support.


Yuma County decided to do this program in the spirit of access to justice—giving defendants an opportunity to reinstate their driver’s licenses. In the end, the courts and government entities benefited as well. Yuma County courts considered this program a success, as they felt they would not have closed a total of 660 cases and collected $200,178 without the program. The courts will continue to research other reform efforts as they work toward increasing public trust and confidence in our judicial system.


Successful projects are the results of staff commitment during the development and implementation phases. The AOC gratefully recognizes the efforts of the following individuals and thanks them for their assistance.

Yuma County, the Superior Court of Yuma County, and the limited-jurisdiction courts of Yuma County:
Presiding Judge Maria Elena Cruz, Kathy Schaben, Cesar Fazz, Kevin Tunnell, Reyna Curiel, Eloina Eustace, Margo Fasavalu, Angela Graddy, Judge Juan Guerrero, Yameli Holguin, Susan Northcutt, Andrea Ruiz, Minnie Samaniego, and Nicholas Felber

Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts
Don Jacobson, Candace Atkinson, Brittany Pelly, Adrian Soltero, Laura Ritenour, Heather Murphy, Kathir Velu, Sathya Muthusamy, Gene Stout, Rajesh Das, Sriman Dhamodharan, Pamela Peet, and Anthony Shanks

Kerri Rivers, Renee Johnson, Dale Cusack, and Michael Sorkin


Laura Ritenour is a business analyst for the Consolidated Collections Unit at the Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).