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Case Name Jones v. Grady County CJ-GA-0009
Docket / Court 1:13-cv-00156-WLS ( M.D. Ga. )
State/Territory Georgia
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Special Collection Criminalization of poverty
Attorney Organization Southern Center for Human Rights
Case Summary
On September 24, 2013, a resident of Georgia filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the state constitution and laws against Grady County and Judge J. William Bass Sr., who presides over the state court of Grady ... read more >
On September 24, 2013, a resident of Georgia filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the state constitution and laws against Grady County and Judge J. William Bass Sr., who presides over the state court of Grady County. The plaintiff, represented by attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief and compensatory damages. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants violated the class members' constitutional rights under the Due Process and Takings Clauses by unlawfully imposing "administrative costs" on people who had been convicted of misdemeanors and were being sentenced to probation. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that Judge Bass devised and enforced a moneymaking scheme for the county under which he would impose administrative costs on criminal defendants to enable the county to collect the money and deposit it in the county treasury. These costs often ranged between $700 and $800 for each defendant, regardless of the underlying offense. The plaintiff claimed that, from July 2011 to July 2012, about 540 state defendants paid administrative fees amounting to more than $296,000.

In the plaintiff's case before Judge Bass, she pleaded guilty on July 9, 2012, to driving under the influence. The judge sentenced her to one year of probation, and, in addition to imposing the statutorily authorized costs and fees, he ordered that the plaintiff pay the county $700 in unspecified administrative costs. Incidentally, that same month, Judge Bass sent a letter to the Grady County Commission in which he explained that he was doing his best to make money for the county and requested a salary increase based on these efforts to "maximize" revenue. Georgia's Judicial Qualifications Commission issued a public reprimand to Judge Bass for this and other ethical violations on March 18, 2013.

The District Court (Judge W. Louis Sands) granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motions to dismiss on August 13, 2014. The court began by rejecting the county's attempt to dismiss the § 1983 claims, holding that the plaintiff properly stated claims against the county for its own direct violations of the Due Process and Takings Clauses. The court also let proceed the federal claim for declaratory relief and the state constitutional claim. It did, however, dismiss the plaintiff's state tort claims against the county on the basis of sovereign immunity. As for the allegations against Judge Bass, the district court denied his motion in its entirety. The court in particular rejected his argument that, because he was acting in his judicial capacity, he enjoyed judicial immunity from the federal and state law claims. The court determined that the immunity doctrine did not apply because the plaintiff sufficiently alleged that Judge Bass was acting in a legislative capacity when he created and enforced the policy requiring state court defendants to pay the administrative costs.

In the months following the order, the parties engaged in mediation and ultimately reached a settlement. On March 18, 2015, the District Court (Judge Sands) entered an order certifying the class and preliminarily approving the parties' proposed settlement agreement. The court certified a class consisting of all individuals who were forced to pay administrative costs in connection with a criminal case before Judge Bass on or after September 24, 2011. The class includes about 400 people. Under the agreement's terms, the defendants will pay each class member $100 in compensatory damages as well as refund those who paid administrative costs in an amount up to $700.

The parties have started notifying class members of their eligibility and sending them their compensation. The court scheduled a final hearing in this case for September 15, 2015.

Brian Tengel - 03/28/2015


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Courts
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action State law
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Grady County
Plaintiff Description A resident of Georgia who was forced to pay certain administrative costs to Grady County upon pleading guilty for driving under the influence.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Southern Center for Human Rights
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Damages
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Links Philadelphia Forfeiture
http://ij.org/case/philadelphia-forfeiture/
By: Institute for Justice (Institute for Justice)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
1:13-cv-00156-WLS (M.D. Ga.) 03/18/2015
CJ-GA-0009-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint 09/24/2013
CJ-GA-0009-0002.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order 08/13/2014 (M.D. Ga.)
CJ-GA-0009-0003.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order on the Joint Motion for Certification of a Class for Settlement Purposes, Appointment of Class Counsel, Preliminary Approval of a Proposed Settlement, Direction Regarding Notice to the Class, and the Scheduling of a Final Fairness Hearing 03/18/2015 (M.D. Ga.)
CJ-GA-0009-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Sands, Willie Louis (M.D. Ga.)
CJ-GA-0009-0001 | CJ-GA-0009-0003 | CJ-GA-0009-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Geraghty, Sarah E. (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0009-0001 | CJ-GA-0009-0002 | CJ-GA-0009-9000
Primerano, Ryan (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0009-9000
Weber, Gerald R. (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0009-0002 | CJ-GA-0009-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Elliott, James L. (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0009-9000
Garland, James A (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0009-9000
Rollins, Raleigh W. (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0009-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

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