Many Counties and Cities prey on the poor and uneducated to fill their coffers
Lawsuit filed over “unauthorized” court costs
By Bill Rankin
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A southwest Georgia county has been collecting unauthorized court costs from hundreds of criminal defendants, many of whom are poor and unable to afford their own lawyers, a federal lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Albany, seeks to stop Grady County State Court from collecting “administrative costs” from defendants without any legal basis to do so. In 2011 and 2012, the county illegally collected almost $297,000 from about 540 defendants, the suit said.
The lawsuit, filed by lawyers for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, seeks class action status on behalf of all defendants who paid the allegedly illegal costs. Sarah Geraghty, a senior attorney for the Southern Center, said her office is also looking at other courts in Georgia where judges impose unauthorized court costs on defendants.
The suit was filed on behalf of Roberta Imogene Jones, of Statesboro, who works nights at a chicken processing plant. Jones, who could not afford a lawyer and represented herself, pleaded guilty in July 2012 to driving under the influence.
Jones was given one year on probation at $44 a month and fined $300. State Court Judge William Bass also ordered Jones to pay $700 in administrative costs to the county, the suit said.
“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,” Geraghty said Wednesday. “Grady County has no right to this money and should return it.”
In March, the state Judicial Qualifications Commission issued a public reprimand to Bass for ethical violations, including findings that he assessed unauthorized costs to defendants and sought a raise in pay based on the amount of money he made for the county.