Criminal Justice

Court officials collected 'unauthorized' court costs from defendants, suit says

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A court in one Georgia county have been accused of illegally collecting unauthorized court costs from hundreds of defendants.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Albany alleges that Grady County State Court officials have collected nearly $300,000 in the past two years from more than 500 criminal defendants, many of whom were poor and unable to afford a lawyer, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The suit was filed on behalf of Roberta Imogene Jones, a Statesboro woman who pleaded guilty in July 2012 to a charge of driving under the influence. Jones, who was placed on one year of probation and fined $300, was also ordered to pay $700 in “administrative costs” to the county.

The suit, filed by lawyers for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, says the county had no legal basis for assessing such a fee. It also seeks class-action status on behalf of all defendants who were assessed a similar fee.

“Courts should operate with the highest standard of integrity, but here we have government officials stepping outside the law and treating a court of justice like a money-making scheme,” Sarah Geraghty, a senior attorney for the center, told the newspaper.

State court judge William Bass, who sentenced Jones, has already been suspended without pay for 60 days and publicly reprimanded by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission for assessing unauthorized court costs against defendants and for seeking a pay raise based on how much money he had brought into the county.

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