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Detained man seeks justice for a fine mess

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

The Pinellas sheriff's deputy showed up at Douglas A. Scott's front door in March with an arrest warrant. Scott was headed to jail.

The deputy said Scott failed to pay a $36 fine for allowing his dog to run loose.

Scott protested that he had paid the fine. He saved the receipt. But deputies are used to hearing excuses. They didn't believe him and didn't want to see his supposed receipt, Scott said.

Deputies took the Palm Harbor man to jail. He spent five hours there before making bail.

But Scott had the rarest excuse _ a real one.

Scott filed suit in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court on Tuesday against Pinellas Clerk of Court Karleen DeBlaker's office for a mistake that Scott said led the deputies to come to his home and arrest him.

The suit seeks unspecified damages in excess of $15,000.

Scott and his attorney, John Trevena, said they discovered after the arrest that a clerk in DeBlaker's office mistakenly logged the lone loose-dog case twice in a computer system so it appeared as though he faced two separate charges.

When Scott paid his fine, only one case reflected the fact. The second case listed an unpaid fine.

"Obviously, the clerk made a mistake," Scott said in an interview Wednesday. "That mistake caused me to be harassed, handcuffed and to lose my civil liberties for five hours. It should never have happened."

Carol Heath, assistant director of DeBlaker's court services division, acknowledged that a clerk who took Scott's fine payment mistakenly jumbled his name, logging him into the computer as "Scott Douglas."

"This kind of thing is a rarity," Heath said. "We consider it a big deal even if it was just a clerical error. We aren't happy it happened."

But she said the county tried to reach an out-of-court settlement with Scott and he refused. Trevena said the offer was $4,500, which Scott considers too low.

Trevena issued a challenge to DeBlaker. If she won't settle it for more than $4,500, then she should spend five hours at the county jail. If she did, Trevena said, he would drop the lawsuit.

"This was very traumatic to my client," Trevena said. "He had never been through anything like that."

DeBlaker did not return calls for comment.

Scott, 43, a father of three who is self-employed in the medical transcription business, said he wonders how often similar mistakes occur.

"I'm sure this isn't the first time someone was arrested because the clerk's office made a mistake."

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