The judges of Richmond County State Court contend a temporary restraining order aimed at alleged unfair and illegal acts by Sentinel Offender Services has thrown their court into chaos.
In an amicus brief filed in one of the civil cases pending against the private probation company, the State Court judges contend the order signed by Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig on April 9 “has completely disrupted the operations of the State Court and the judges’ ability to enforce the terms of a probated sentence and to collect fines duly ordered in lieu of incarceration.”
According to the brief, “The State Court is now in a quandary and cannot continue its normal operations.”
The court, however, was in session Tuesday as it heard about a dozen cases, including from Michelle Jones, a 32-year-old mother of four. Jones was reduced to tears as she explained she had no money to pay Sentinel $549 the company contends she owes in supervision fees. She satisfied her court fine by performing 74 hours of community service.
Jones told Judge Patricia Booker that she is actively seeking a job but meanwhile she is dependent on her grandmother, who is on a fixed income herself. She had less than a year of school left to become a medical assistant but was kicked out because of the battery conviction. She asked how she could get her record expunged so she could get back in class, finish school and get a job. “That’s all I have going for me.”
But Jones has no money to hire an attorney and the public defender’s office cannot take such cases.
“I’m just stuck,” Jones said.
The judge suspended the rest of Jones’ probation sentence if her grandmother pays Sentinel $75.
Attorney John Long has filed a dozen lawsuits against Sentinel, contending it is unconstitutional to allow a for-profit entity to provide a judicial service, and to jail someone just because he is poor.
Craig – who is assigned to preside over the cases against Sentinel – issued the temporary restraining order after Long presented evidence he contends proves that more people have been falsely arrested on probation violation warrants.
On behalf of the four Richmond County State Court judges, private attorneys Jim Wall and Jim Ellison wrote that Craig has created a quagmire and has “absolutely eviscerated” the judges’ ability to enforce the conditions of any probation sentence because the temporary restraining order ignores “the practicalities of the system.”
“Before hiring attorneys the State Court (judges) should get their own house in order by having court reporters,” Long said.
Court reporters create a record of court proceedings. Such records can prove if defendants have been afforded all of the constitutional rights guaranteed to every citizen facing any potential incarceration.
In Georgia, misdemeanor crimes – which include nearly all traffic offenses from drunken driving to rolling through a stop sign – are punishable by up to a year in jail.
Long filed habeas petitions late last year for four people jailed on allegations they violated the terms of probation set by Richmond County State Court judges. Craig found that none of the four had been fully apprised of their constitutional rights in State Court, and he voided their convictions.
“How many more sentences are not valid?” Long asked.