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Woman fined $190 for overdue books: Only a handful of library fine complaints have been prosecuted
[November 03, 2008]

Woman fined $190 for overdue books: Only a handful of library fine complaints have been prosecuted

(Victoria Advocate (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 3--Shannon Dooling doesn't plan to go back to the Victoria Public Library any time soon.

On Oct. 2, Municipal Court Judge Steven S. Kidder ordered the Victoria woman to pay the city $190 after she returned three books -- nine months late -- and failed to respond to library and city notifications about their overdue status.

"I'll spend $190 at Hastings now rather than the library because at least I know where it's going," Dooling said.

Dooling's 4-year-old son, Cooper, checked out three picture books in June 2007. The books soon became interspersed among his personal collection and Dooling forgot about them.

"I think we read them all once," she said.

When Dooling moved into a new home in April, she found the books and returned them. The library fined her $21.94 in overdue fees and gave her some unexpected news.

"The girl at the library said, 'You need to take this to court. We've pressed charges,'" Dooling said.

Section 11-33 of Victoria's city code mandates that library patrons return late materials within two weeks after a notification is issued. The city charged that Dooling knowingly failed to return library materials.

"Our library loses thousands of dollars of materials every year," said O.C. Garza, public information officer for the city of Victoria. "It's like a DVD rental company. If you don't return their DVD's, it's like theft."

The library issued a written notification in September. Five months later, the city sent a warning that a criminal misdemeanor charge would be filed if the materials were not returned within 30 days.

Dooling said she didn't receive either letter. However, her father signed for the library notice's receipt.

The letter probably went to her parents' house because she and her son lived there for a time, she said.

In April, Dooling appeared in the municipal court and pleaded not guilty. After the hearing, Doug Anderson, municipal court prosecutor, offered to reduce Dooling's penalty from $235 to $95, but she refused.

"I said, 'No, that's an outrageous amount,'" Dooling recalled.

Anderson gets about 10 fine complaints from the library every month, said Mary Danysh, municipal court clerk. Of those, only a handful have been prosecuted during Anderson's 11-year tenure as court prosecutor.

"To me, it's a headache," said Anderson. "I get no pleasure or enjoyment in prosecuting someone for not paying their library fine."

Anderson decided not to dismiss the charge against Dooling because she did not respond to the notifications and returned the books after the charge was filed.

"The bottom line is she was asking me for a favor," he said. "If I do anything, I try to be consistent."

At the trial Wednesday, librarian Shirley Tyrone appeared as a witness even though she had previously requested the case be dismissed.

"The practice of the library is once the fine is paid to the library, they will recommend a dismissal," Garza said. "However, any dismissal is up to the court or the prosecuting attorney."

Anderson was not aware of the request.

"I talked to Shirley Tyrone and she testified today and she didn't say that," he said.

Kidder found Dooling guilty and ordered her to pay the fine in two installments.

Dooling felt the proceedings were unfair because she didn't know she was entitled to legal representation.

Danysh said the municipal court twice gave her a written copy of her rights. Dooling said this was not the case.

Dooling does not plan to file a motion for a new trial.

"I can't take the time off from work to battle this," she said.

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