“Most distressing is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law,” Harrington wrote. “Disgraceful.”
Judge halts ‘debtors prison’ by Harpersville city court, calls it ‘judicially sanctioned extortion’
HARPERSVILLE, Alabama — A Shelby County judge shut down what he called a “debtors prison” run by Harpersville Municipal Court and a private probation company that he said amounted to a “judicially sanctioned extortion racket,” court records show.
Circuit Judge Hub Harrington took control of all cases in Harpersville involving people jailed for failing to pay court fines and fees. He also ordered the city’s mayor and all council members to attend an Aug. 20 injunction hearing and future court hearings in the case.
Harrington filed the order Wednesday afternoon on a lawsuit filed in 2010 on behalf of Dana Burdette, contending that Harpersville Municipal Court routinely violated defendants’ Constitutional rights. If they were unable to immediately pay court-imposed fines and fees, defendants often were trapped by the system into paying several times that amount, the judge found.
The judge wrote in a scathing five-page order that he reviewed sworn statements filed by Burdette’s lawyers during the Fourth of July holiday and was appalled by the evidence he saw of systematic abuses in Harpersville.
From the Order:
“When viewed in a light most favorable to Defendants, their testimony concerning the City’s court system could reasonably be characterized as the operation of a debtors prison. The court notes that these generally fell into disfavor by the early 1800′s, though the practice appears to have remained common place in Harpersville. From a fair reading of the defendants’ testimony one might ascertain that a more apt description of the Harpersville Municipal Court practices is that of a judicially sanctioned extortion racket. Most distressing is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law. Disgraceful.
Defendants’ depositions present virtually undisputed evidence that criminal defendants appearing before the Harpersville Municipal Court have been subjected to repeated and ongoing violations of almost every safeguard afforded by the United States Constitution, the laws of the State of Alabama, and the Rules of Criminal Procedure. The admitted violations are so numerous as to defy a detailed chronicling in this short space”
Full report here…
Copy of the full order below…