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 ...
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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