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Southern Center for Human Rights

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A legal battle out of Calhoun, Ga. over the constitutionality of jailing people too poor to afford bond is on its way back into the hands of a lower court.

About a year ago, a district court judge enjoined the city of Calhoun from detaining indigent defendants for misdemeanors or minor traffic cases. Last week, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction, saying it was too light on detail.

 

David Goldman / Associated Press

Among several ballot measures next month, Georgia voters will be asked whether they want to change the agency that polices judges in the state, known as the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC). If passed, the constitutional amendment would allow state lawmakers to recreate the commission.

Supporters say the changes are needed because the watchdog agency needs more oversight, but critics say the move would strip the agency of its political independence and effectiveness.

What Does the JQC Do?

Dario Lopez-Mills / Associated Press

A woman is suing a Columbus judge and court officers for fining and jailing her when she refused to testify against a boyfriend who had allegedly abused her. According to the lawsuit, the incident is part of a larger policy of penalizing domestic violence victims in Columbus.

Back in June, Cleopatra Harrison appeared in court a few days after her boyfriend had been arrested for assaulting her.

Dario Lopez-Mills / Associated Press

Lawyers for a group of people suing DeKalb County over its old court system are seeking class-action status, saying the court could have potentially mishandled thousands of other traffic cases.  

The lawsuit, which includes 17 plaintiffs, alleges DeKalb County’s Recorders Court reported mistakes about people’s traffic cases to the state Department of Driver Services. That led, the suit says, to the wrongful suspension of people’s driver’s licenses or the failure to reinstate a license.

David Goldman, File / AP Photo

Two Georgia prisons are on lockdown.

One, Telfair State Prison, is locked down because of "rising inmate tensions" after weapons and cellphones were founds in the prison. At Macon State Prison, Georgia's Department of Correction said inmate Kendrick Hicks was killed on Monday, and another inmate was injured in a separate violent incident.

In each case, corrections officials say gangs are responsible.

One Georgia county has cut ties with a private probation company it had used for more than a decade. The company, Sentinel Offender Services, has been sued more than a dozen times for violations.

The majority of those suits stem from Sentinel jailing people unable to afford the company's fees.

Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, has sued Sentinel on behalf of clients who were charged money for drug tests no judge ordered them to take.

Cameron Tucker's charges were upped to involuntary manslaughter.
Joe Gratz / flickr.com/joegratz

Multiple judges in Georgia within the last decade have been accused of misconduct, many in cases of a sexual nature, according to a list compiled by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2010. 

“We do not want our judges harassing litigants or jurors, or presiding over cases when one of the lawyers is a sexual partner of the judge,” said Stephen Bright, president and senior council at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

A class action lawsuit accuses one of Georgia's largest private probation companies of forcing probationers to take unnecessary and costly drug tests.

The lawsuit claims a probation officer ordered two north Georgia women to take urine tests, even though no judge required it. That's according to the suit the Southern Center for Human Rights has filed against Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation company, and one of its White County officers.

The Southern Center for Human Rights' Sarah Geraghty filed the complaint.

A civil rights group says a private probation company illegally required people on probation for traffic offenses to submit to drug tests at their own expense.

The Southern Center for Human Rights on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against Sentinel Offender Services and one of the company's probation officers in North Georgia.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two women who pleaded guilty to driving while unlicensed. Each was fined and placed on probation with Sentinel.

Vera Cheeks, who was part of a settlement with the City of Bainbridge in a lawsuit against Red Hills Community Probation, LLC, for alleged illegal detentions.
Sarah Geraghty / Southern Center for Human Rights

Thousands of drivers are pulled over for traffic violations every year for all kinds of roadway offenses. But imagine if you show up for your court date and can’t afford to pay the fine. And instead of paying off the ticket in increments, you are detained by the private firm that runs the probation system. The firm won’t let allow you to leave until you pay all, or a big chunk of the fine, and might even toss you in jail if you don’t pay up.

 A human rights group has settled a lawsuit with a South Georgia city for detaining people too poor to pay court-ordered fees and fines.

Under the agreement reached between the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights and the city of Bainbridge, the latter agreed to reform policies and procedures surrounding the collection of court and probation fees for misdemeanor crimes. Among them, the city can no longer hold people in court or jail who can't make day-of-court payments.  It’s also prohibited from jailing people just for failing to pay, unless failure to pay is willful.

The city of Calhoun is being challenged for its practice of jailing people because they are too poor to pay for bail.

The Southern Center for Human Rights filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people charged with minor crimes who are too poor to pay their bail fees.

Jonathan Satriale / flickr.com/politicalpulse

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Timothy Foster, a Georgia death row inmate. The justices will decide whether prosecutors racially discriminated in the jury selection process.

Lambda Legal says Georgia doesn't have strong laws protecting transgender rights.
Penn State / flickr.com/pennstatelive

The Southern Center for Human Rights said a settlement agreement reached this week will improve legal representation for poor children and adults in a south Georgia judicial circuit.

The center filed a lawsuit in last year against the Cordele Judicial Circuit. Atteeyah Hollie, an attorney who worked on the case, said, at Cordele often a person who’d been arrested would apply for lawyer and nothing would happen.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Atlanta
Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press file

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a Statement of Interest in a suit against the state and the Cordele Judicial Circuit, which claims some children in the circuit’s four south Georgia counties aren't receiving adequate representations in juvenile court.

The 20-page statement doesn’t weigh in on the merits of the suit’s claims. Rather, it outlines the kind of defense juveniles are entitled to under the law. The letter concludes that if the allegations of inadequate representation are true, then the court should hold that “juveniles’ constitutional rights are being violated.”

Lambda Legal says Georgia doesn't have strong laws protecting transgender rights.
Penn State / flickr.com/pennstatelive

Georgia lawmakers have backed away from a proposal that would have removed requirements governing public defense, a move that had sparked backlash from attorneys groups in the state.

As part of sweeping reforms to the state’s public defense system taken up more than a decade ago, current law requires a person have access to a public defender within three business days of being charged or jailed. It also requires each circuit defenders office have departments dedicated to juvenile defense and that lawyers have experience proportionate to the type of cases they’re handling.

GA House of Reps.

Georgians who can’t afford to pay off traffic tickets and other misdemeanor fines are routinely put on probation until they can pay, but that may be changing soon.

Georgia, by far, has more people on probation for low-level offenses than any other state in the country. About 300,000 at any one time, in fact. And at a rate that’s quadruple the national average.

“We have to wonder is that because people in Georgia are so much less law-abiding?" says Sarah Geraghty. "I have to believe the answer to that is no."

Lisa George/WABE

A human rights law firm Friday dropped its federal contempt of court suit against Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and Sheriff Ted Jackson after the county made significant improvements to the Fulton County Jail.

The Southern Center for Human Rights filed the suit last October, citing staffing shortages, broken locks and an overcrowding problem that had some inmates sleeping on the floor.

All, the Southern Center said, were in violation of a consent order the county signed on to eight years ago and still hadn’t met.

Office of Gov. Nathan Deal

Critics say a bill under review by Gov. Nathan Deal would make it easier to lock up poor people for low-level offenses.

Deal hasn’t made up his mind about the overall bill, but he says at least part of it is cause for concern.

A human rights organization is suing the state for allegedly violating the right to counsel of indigent juveniles and adults facing criminal charges in the Cordele Judicial Circuit, and seeks remedies for alleged understaffing in the four-county circuit’s public defender’s office.