STAFF WRITER CONNIE SWINNEY
LLANO — Offenders who fail to pay their fines or show up in county court could face another problem — public scrutiny — due to a new Llano County Attorney’s Office program that calls out warrant violators on social media.
“There’s a significant number of people out on the lam who owe the county money,” Llano County Attorney Becky Lange said.
The county attorney’s office typically handles all class A misdemeanors (with penalties of up to a year in county jail and a $4,000 fine) as well as class B misdemeanors (possible six months in jail and a $2,000 fine).
Those cases include marijuana and dangerous drug possession, domestic violence, terroristic threats, and hot checks.
The office also prosecutes contested justice of the peace cases, which are class C misdemeanors such as traffic violations and assaults for which fines are no more than $500 with no jail time attached.
During her five years as county attorney, Lange began assessing a stack of about 200 unresolved warrants — some dating back more than 15 years — to determine how to hold offenders responsible.
“In the past, we’ve had limited technology to track them down,” Lange said. “Many of the offenders are transient, but they’re still responsible for providing us their (forwarding) address and phone number so we can put them on a finance plan.”
To further help clear up cases, Llano County Legal Assistant Melissa Wright recommended another step in the process.
She coined the term “Warrant Wednesday” and suggested the office use a popular social media platform to track down offenders.
“Since social media is such a big thing these days, we ran it by her and said, ‘Let’s give it a try,’” Wright said of the weekly feature on the Llano County Attorney Facebook page.
Each week for the month, Lange’s office has listed a random group of warrant offenders in arrears or who have failed to appear in court.
So far, the office has cleared dozens of warrants with the majority of the cases from 2010 to present. The listing includes a name, a mugshot photo, and a brief description of the offense.
In one week, the office resolved warrants for more than a dozen offenses.
“They’re highly motivated,” Lang said of the individuals with the warrants. “Now, we’re able to clear them up.”
On April 25, due to the popularity of the feature, officials increased the number of social media listings from two to five warrant offenders.
“We also have input from the community telling us where people are, where they see them, or where they’re living,” Wright said.
Lange said her office makes a concerted effort to verify the warrant with area law enforcement agencies, court personnel, and databases.
“This is huge personal and privacy issue, so we don’t want to have people disparaged wrongfully,” Lange said. “We’re being extremely cautious, and we’re taking that very seriously.
“We have several checks and balances,” she added.
Once the court updates the warrant and/or resolves the case, officials delete the offender information from Facebook.
“It’s for the good of the community. Our main goal is to try to work with everyone. We’re not out to get anybody,” Wright said. “We’re just trying to get them into court and get this resolved.”