Judge says he isn't an 'ogre' and didn't jail defendants for unpaid fines, despite threats

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A Georgia judge caught on cellphone video threatening to jail defendants who didn’t pay their traffic fines says his threats were never carried out.

Judge Richard Diment of Bowdon, Georgia, tells the New York Times he made the jail threat to determine whether defendants could actually pay. “I am not the ogre that the edited video is making me out to be,” he said.

Diment said he has often lowered fines, or allowed community service in place of fines. Fines in the town of Bowdon account for 3.8 percent of the budget, which is lower than average for Georgia towns of similar size.

“It weighs heavily on my heart every single time I go to court,” Diment told the Times. “I’m worried about being fair to everyone, and I’m exhausted when I go out.”

The video shows Diment telling one defendant, “Until you get $300 here tonight, you won’t be able to leave.” He told another defendant, who said he had been unemployed for two years, “You’re going to have to figure out a way to get this paid, do you understand me? Or you’re going to go to jail. One or the other. You understand?”

The original video, published on YouTube in June 2014 by Mila Hentzien, was 41 minutes long. A condensed version edited by the New York Times appears below.

After the video surfaced, the Southern Center for Human Rights urged the town of Bowdon to implement reforms. Defendants will no longer be required to make immediate payments under threat of going to jail, and the city will no longer require defendants to ask friends or relatives to pay their fines.

Updated at 9:39 a.m. to add a link to the original video.

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