Thousands owed court refunds in northeastern Ohio

CLEVELAND - An Ohio court clerk's office owes tens of thousands of people anywhere from $10 to $1,000 because of a failure to refund court fees and bond payments dating back decades, the clerk said.

The Cuyahoga County Clerk of Court's office owes a total of $23 million in refundable court fees and bond payments to people who paid them in criminal or civil cases dating to 1986, according to Clerk Andrea Rocco.

Auditors found the cash in an account that also contained the operating funds for the clerk's office.

Rocco said the money should have been returned years ago, but county workers didn't send notifications and many people didn't know they were entitled to refunds, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland ( http://bit.ly/10kqDAO ) reported Wednesday.

Rocco, who took over as clerk of courts this year, will hire part-time workers to review more than 172,000 cases and determine specific amounts and names.

That process could take months to complete. But the names of those who are owed money will be posted online and in Rocco's office. People will have five years to claim the money before it is turned over to the county. She suspects the average refund will be less than $100.

Longtime clerk Gerald Fuerst, who preceded Rocco, said his staff wasn't obligated to track and notify people who failed to claim their money.

"We don't go chasing around for them," he told the newspaper. "We don't have the staff to do it."

The office, under Fuerst, had an accounting of the unclaimed money that included case numbers, Rocco said.

Much of the money is from bonds posted in criminal cases, and Rocco said she suspects most people forgot about it.

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