Omar Villafranca, NBC 5 News
A North Texas man who paid a lawyer to handle a Denton County speeding ticket 18 years ago says he has received a letter saying a warrant is being issued for his arrest over the citation.
A North Texas man has received a letter threatening jail time for a speeding ticket he says he paid 18 years ago.
Jimmy Wooldridge said he remembers the ticket because he got it a few months after marrying his wife, Gayle.
He said he paid a lawyer to handle the ticket 18 years ago and was surprised to recently get a letter saying he owes court costs and that a warrant was being issued for his arrest.
"When I see the date on it, I'm like, 'For real? Eighteen years ago?'" Wooldridge said. "I thought, 'I got to find out more about this.' I thought, 'This is a joke.'"
But it's not a joke.
"Well, anytime you're getting an official document from the county saying, 'Pay us some money or you're going to jail,' I'd be concerned about that," said Ron Danforth, Wooldridge's old traffic attorney.
Danforth, a McKinney lawyer, said at least eight of his former clients have received similar letters. The infractions range from simple speeding tickets to running red lights. The original tickets were written between 14 and 18 years ago, he said.
He said he handled the ticket for Wooldridge and his other former clients.
"My clients are saying, 'We paid it.' I'm saying, 'If you paid it to me, it went in my trust account. I paid it to the court,'" Danforth said.
Wooldridge said he is worried an old bill he swears he paid will land him in jail if he is pulled over.
"I'm going to go to jail for a ticket 18 years ago that I already paid once?" he said while shaking his head.
A receipt could clear up the confusion, but Danforth said he doesn't have the paperwork proving that he paid the county.
His records only go back seven and eight years. The State Bar of Texas only asks that attorneys keep client records for seven years.
Danforth also said he's switched at banks at least two times. And he said he knows Wooldridge's case is old because it was a traffic ticket -- and he stopped handling traffic tickets almost 10 years ago.
"I don't think you should be obligated to keep traffic ticket fine payment records for 18 years," he said.
Danforth said he wants to know why Denton County waited so long to send letters to his former clients. He said he also wants to know why the county didn't flag the accounts earlier if it didn't receive payment.
"These people renewed their driver's license three or four times," he said. "That means they walked into a government facility [and] gave someone their driver's license. They had an opportunity to run it and say, 'Hey, you have an outstanding warrant in Denton County, go take care of it,' and nothing was done."
Denton County Clerk Cynthia Mitchell told NBC 5 the State of Texas decides the guidelines for going after certain infractions.
She admitted that 18 years is a little late to go after an old court fine, but said the state sets a pecking order on which infractions to go after based on information reported from the county.
"I can't tell you responsibly that they (the state of Texas) use the information in the most efficient manner," she said.
Mitchell said she would consider talking to judges and the Denton County district attorney to have certain older cases dismissed.