Rhode Island Courts Follow Threaten-First Philosophy for Cash


Here’s a question:  How much time did Jennifer Nientimp of Tiverton have to spend digging out a 21-year-old letter from the RI Administrative Adjudication Court dismissing a speeding ticket in order to prove that she didn’t have to pay the $82 fine that the state judiciary is now demanding from her?

Here’s another question:  How many of the other quarter-million letters that the courts sent out seeking $81 million in unpaid fines are similarly baseless?

The answer to the question is probably that there is no way to know.  Reading Gregory Smith’s article in today’s Providence Journal, one gets the impression that the judiciary essentially grabbed somebody’s informal tally and used it as the basis for its collection efforts.  The onus is entirely on the people who receive the letters to find their records (potentially after 40 years or more) or at least to claim that the collection demand is in error.  Then the state will spend money trying to track down the facts across records spanning every technology of the last half-century.

This is absurd.  The state should have to be able to convincingly document that a particular fine is still due, and those who are wrongly harassed should have recourse to some damages for lost time and stress.

The episode is yet another indication that the government of the State of Rhode Island has drifted from the idea of serving the public and to the demand that the public fund a vast array of inside deals, special favors, and pet projects.  If you live here or have interacted with the state in any way since the Nixon administration, you aren’t a citizen to be represented, but a potential source of more money.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    That is just how government works. I has a similar problem once over trash collection fees. I have dumpsters and do not have municipal trash collection. They demanded ancient fees and I no longer had records of payments to my rash contractor. They regarded that as poof that I owed it. I asked if they had any records proving that they provided the service. They did not. That mattered not at all. I had to settle with them to prevent a lien.

  • Mike Rollins

    Please correct me, if I am mistaken, but doesn’t Rhode Island have a ten year statute of limitations upon most alleged criminal activities? Beyond that, I see major due process issues related to a legal principle called “estoppel by laches” which says that by waiting too long to take legal action one loses the right to do so. This current effort to collect alleged traffic fines, from many years ago, strikes me as being a federal class action civil rights lawsuit just waiting to happen.