In Harpersville, Alabama, The Birmingham News reports:
- A Shelby County judge shut down what he called a "debtors prison" run by Harpersville Municipal Court and a private probation company that he said amounted to a "judicially sanctioned extortion racket," court records show.
Circuit Judge Hub Harrington took control of all cases in Harpersville involving people jailed for failing to pay court fines and fees. He also ordered the city's mayor and all council members to attend an Aug. 20 injunction hearing and future court hearings in the case.
Harrington filed the order Wednesday afternoon on a lawsuit filed in 2010 on behalf of Dana Burdette, contending that Harpersville Municipal Court routinely violated defendants' Constitutional rights. If they were unable to immediately pay court-imposed fines and fees, defendants often were trapped by the system into paying several times that amount, the judge found.
The judge wrote in a scathing five-page order that he reviewed sworn statements filed by Burdette's lawyers during the Fourth of July holiday and was appalled by the evidence he saw of systematic abuses in Harpersville.
"Most distressing is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law," Harrington wrote. "Disgraceful."
The judge found evidence that the city would turn over to the private probation company, Judicial Corrections Services, cases in which Municipal Court defendants could not immediately pay the court-imposed fine and costs.
Many defendants later were locked up, some on bogus failure-to-appear complaints, resulting in more charges that led to more fines, court costs -- and more debt, the judge wrote.
Thanks to Deontos for the heads-up on the story.