Thursday, December 18, 2003

Holiday in jail threat does job

Child-support offenders pay up when prodded

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Some Butler County child-support offenders were looking Wednesday for "get-out-of-jail-free" cards - but found they're in short supply.

On Wednesday, the county's Juvenile Court judges heard nearly 70 cases on their annual "Christmas child-support docket," a list of offenders who are given a choice: Find a way to pay up or spend the holiday behind bars.

"It's amazing how many people we've let out of there (a holding area) because they've come up with the money," said Greg Bliss, bailiff for Judge David J. Niehaus.

Niehaus presided over more than 50 child-support cases Wednesday and sent at least 16 offenders to jail. Judge Ron Craft heard about 15 cases.

More than a dozen offenders from Niehaus' docket avoided jail by paying their past-due amounts, said Dusty Dunaway, spokeswoman for the county's Child Support Enforcement Agency.

Court Administrator Rob Clevenger said the pre-Christmas docket began about four years ago because judges noticed offenders were more inclined to make payments to avoid jail during the holiday season. And, he said, "the judges recognize there's a child who's been brought into this world and needs that support, especially at this time of year."

Danny Lee Scearce of Trenton said he failed to keep his September promise to pay because he hurt his back and couldn't work until two weeks ago. That's when he got a job at an auto-parts store.

While Scearce was unemployed, he could have sought an order reducing his child-support payments until he could work, Clevenger said. Few offenders take that step, which puts them deeper in arrears.

Scearce pleaded to remain free: "This will be the first Christmas I get to see my son."

Niehaus was unmoved. He ordered that, unless Scearce persuades someone to pay $1,500 on his account by Friday, Scearce will spend 39 days in jail.

"We've played with you long enough. That's why you're on this (pre-Christmas) docket," Niehaus said. "It's the end of the road."


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