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FOX 5 I-Team investigates

Atlanta traffic court burdened by large number of cases

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ATLANTA -

An I-Team investigation finds Atlanta traffic court is getting crushed under the pressure of ever-increasing cases, made worse by an outdated clerical system.

The I-Team's Dana Fowle says because of that, mistakes are being made that have put innocent people behind bars.

Robert Clinard says he was coming off Interstate 85 to merge with Interstate 20 when he saw blue lights, so he pulled over. He tried to dispute a speeding ticket, but says he realized very quickly he was dealing with a much bigger issue.

"At that point he tells me to get out of the car and he informs me that my driver license was suspended in February," said Clinard.

Instead of making it to a friend's funeral, Clinard ended up at Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention getting a mugshot.     

Two years ago, Clinard got another ticket for running a red light.  A series of clerical errors with that ticket set off a chain reaction that eventually landed him in jail. Clinard says he tried to pay his first ticket online but couldn't find any information about it. So, he called an Atlanta city clerk for help.  

"She says, ‘Well, I see what the problem is, they had your name in the system has Rosevelt instead of Robert.' And they also put, and this was the most important thing, they had put the citation number in incorrectly numerically," said Clinard.

In the weeks it took trying to sort out the error, Clinard missed his court date and had his license suspended.  Eventually he paid his fine and got his license reinstated.  He says he was assured it was settled, until his arrest two years later.

"And that's where everything just kind of went crazy," Clinard said.

Atlanta City Councilman H. Lamar Willis sits on the Public Safety Committee.   

"The magnitude to which I'm being told that it is, is news to me and I'm sure would be news to my colleagues on Council, and frankly, would be news to the mayor," said Willis.

Two court insiders tell FOX 5 that as many as 2,000 citations a year have mistakes. Those mistakes can put people just one traffic stop away from possibly going to jail.

Councilman Willis wants a high-tech solution such as computerized citations. He hopes it can cut down on errors.

"It gives the person who is cited something to know very quickly if their names are spelled wrong. You don't have to deal with handwriting issues if someone doesn't write as neatly as others," said Willis.

Clinard still wonders if his troubles are over. When he showed up for a court date on an unrelated charge, he saw a familiar mistake.

"I'm looking at the court assignment docket and I looked up there and I see my first name, my last name. And I'm up there again and it has a Rosevelt," said Clinard.

To compound the problem, there are seven municipal court judge positions and four of them are empty.

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