Judge extends restraining order in Sentinel case

For at least the next 20 days, the restraining order prohibiting the enforcement of arrest warrants requested by a private probation company will remain in effect.

The court proceedings hit a legal brick wall at a Richmond County Superior Court hearing Wednesday. Judge Daniel J. Craig had set the hearing in anticipation of being able to make substantive rulings in the civil lawsuits filed against Sentinel Offender Services.

Craig agreed to give the Sentinel attorneys time to depose the judicial circuit’s chief judge, and the plaintiff’s attorneys time to depose two Sentinel employees whose affidavits were recently filed as court documents in the cases.

Each request could prove crucial to the opposing sides.

In a lawsuit filed against Sentinel in Columbia County, plaintiff attorneys contend Sentinel never had a valid contract to provide probation services to ensure that the probationer does what the court orders – such as pay a fine, restitution or community service.

Sentinel attorneys contend Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet could provide testimony to counter that claim.

In a lawsuit that seeks class-action status against Sentinel on behalf of people put on probation by Richmond County State Court judges, plaintiff attorneys contend Sentinel employees requested non-bondable arrest warrants on false accusations or without justification.

According to the affidavits by two Sentinel employees, the company has been more than fair and patient with probationers who refused to take steps that could have saved them from later arrests.

Craig issued a restraining order that affects the workings of Rich­mond County State Court and the sheriff’s office after hearing of several arrests of residents who contend they never received any notice they were in violation of their probation, had not violated any terms of probation, and – in three cases – had completed their probation sentences years before they were arrested on warrants requested by Sentinel.

The state court judges and the sheriff have employed private counsel to intervene in the civil lawsuits, contending their ability to carry out their lawful duty has been frozen.

Craig gave the attorneys options to dealing with the restraining order in the short term. All sides opted to leave the order in place for at least 20 more days.

The attorneys have 10 days to do their depositions, and Craig said he will set a hearing within the following 10 days, unless the they request more time to prepare.

The restraining order went into effect April 9.

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