Federal Court Gives Preliminary Approval to Settlement Returning Money to Persons Who Paid Unauthorized Administrative Costs in Grady County State Court

19th March, 2015
Southern Center for Human Rights

ALBANY, GEORGIA – Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia gave its preliminary approval to a settlement in Jones v. Grady County, et al., 1:13-CV-156-WLS (M.D. Ga.), a case brought to stop the Grady County State Court from collecting substantial sums in unauthorized “administrative costs” from citizens who come before the court. For at least seven years, Grady County State Court Judge William Bass required persons convicted of misdemeanors in Grady County to pay large and undefined “administrative costs” to the County, in addition to statutorily authorized fines and surcharges. Plaintiff Roberta Jones and others were required to pay “administrative costs” which sometimes doubled the amount the person would have paid had they been sentenced in accordance with the law.

In the lawsuit, Plaintiff alleged that the State Court created the “administrative costs” as a money-making mechanism for the County. In a letter to the Grady County Commission delivered in July 2012, Judge Bass discussed his efforts to make money for Grady County, stating that he “work[ed] hard to maximize what get[s] turned over,” and that “[t]he judge must go beyond the call of the job to produce that much for the county.” Judge Bass requested a raise in his personal salary based on his efforts to “maximize” county revenues.

The Court’s recent order certified a class of persons who paid “administrative costs” since September 24, 2011. Under the terms of the settlement, Defendants will refund people who paid the administrative costs since September 24, 2011 in the amount they paid, up to $700. The Defendants will also pay plaintiff class members an additional $100 in damages each. About 400 people will eligible for a return of some or all of their money and a $100 damages award under the settlement.

Plaintiff Roberta Jones, who works nights at a poultry plant, paid $700 in administrative costs in addition to the statutorily authorized fines and fees. Pursuant to yesterday’s order, the parties will now start the process of notifying class members that they are eligible to receive compensation and returning money to those who paid. The Court set a final hearing on this matter for September 15, 2015.

“We are pleased that the parties were able to resolve this case, and that people who paid these unauthorized costs will be compensated,” said SCHR Senior Attorney, Sarah Geraghty. “Courts serve to administer justice and should not be used as money-making entities to enrich local government.”

To read the Court’s Order and Settlement Agreement, click here

Note: The Complaint was filed September 24, 2013. There is a 2-year statute of limitations on civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983.  

For additional information, contact Kathryn Hamoudah at 404/688-1202 or [email protected]