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Man pays traffic fine, released after five nights in jail

LAND O'LAKES — After five nights in jail for an unpaid traffic fine half a lifetime ago, Stanley Panopoulos is going home.

"He can't wait," his wife, Maria Panopoulos, said Thursday evening as she waited for his call for a ride home from the Pasco County jail.

Mr. Panopoulos, 50, was arrested Saturday night on a 1986 warrant for not paying a $229.50 reckless driving citation — a fine Mr. Panopoulos says he never knew he had to pay. He had served four weekends in jail and did community service. He thought he'd fulfilled his requirements.

There is no indication in the court records that he ever received notice of the outstanding fine, attorney Clementine Conde said. When he didn't show up for a 1986 hearing on the matter, the judge issued a warrant requiring a 15-day stint at the county jail.

But that warrant stayed dormant for more than two decades, never popping up when Panopoulos, a car salesman, renewed his license or picked up a few speeding tickets.

Then the case file shows the warrant logged on the docket in March 2009. A deputy running Mr. Panopoulos' license plate last weekend saw the order and hauled him to jail.

"It's very, very unusual," Conde said. "Mr. Panopoulos found it to be very, very unusual. He had absolutely no idea."

Conde knows the family and ran into Mrs. Panopoulos at the jail Wednesday night. All the attorneys Mrs. Panopoulos talked to said there was no way out of the 15-day confinement. A judge had ordered it so back in 1986.

"(Conde) said, 'Oh no, no, no. We can fix this,' " Mrs. Panopoulos recalled.

On Thursday morning, Conde called Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis, who agreed that Mr. Panopoulos could be released if he paid the fine. Conde said that's how such cases are handled these days anyway. If you owe an outstanding fine, you either pay up or you go to jail.

"They don't incarcerate you for 15 days because you didn't pay a (traffic) fine," Conde said.

"It was appropriate he just pay the monies and be released. It was judicious to handle it that way."

On Thursday afternoon, Mrs. Panopoulos paid the ancient fees, which totalled $261.50 with late charges. She didn't care.

"We're just grateful he's able to get out," she said.

Mr. Panopoulos was scheduled to be released from jail Thursday night. Mrs. Panopoulos, bewildered, exhausted, happy the ordeal was over, planned to order pizza.

Times staff writer Bridget Hall Grumet contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Man pays traffic fine, released after five nights in jail 03/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011 8:45pm]
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