By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Philadelphia Bar Association is exploring an effort by the court system to collect more than a billion dollars in forfeited bail and unpaid fines. A panel, today, will discuss whether the debt recovery system has been fair and effective.

It’s been nearly two years since the Court System began going after back debts, as part of a reform effort to combat chronic non-appearance by defendants in criminal cases. Since then, it’s collected nearly $5-million — far below the billion-and-a-half the court claimed it was owed but, court administrator David Wasson says, more than zero, which is what the court used to collect.

“We have a long way to go but all in all, we’re pleased with the progress we’ve made.”

The problem, says Rebecca Vallas of Community Legal Services, is that the court has over-reached, trying to collect from defendants who were in court decades ago, when record-keeping was shoddy.

“They really shouldn’t be pressuring people to pay without first making sure the debts are accurate and instead, they’re forcing half a million people, most of whom can’t afford a lawyer to prove they don’t owe the money that’s being sought from them.”

Today’s panel will seek recommendations for improving the system.