A city prosecutor says he probably will recommend dropping the charges against most of the people arrested for their involvement in buying and selling Masters Tournament tickets this month.
Harry B. James, the solicitor for Richmond County Magistrate Court, said that he has begun reviewing the cases under his jurisdiction and that he is inclined to recommend dismissal for all.
“Most of those persons arrested stayed in jail for two to five hours,” James said. “So I’m looking at several possibilities, including requesting the court to (dismiss) based on time served.”
More than 40 people were arrested during Masters Week in connection with buying, selling or soliciting Masters tickets outside the gates of Augusta National Golf Club. Most – more than 30 – were charged with disorderly conduct, not ticket scalping, and taken to the Richmond County jail to be booked. They remained there until someone posted at least $500 bond, which will be refunded if the charges are dropped.
James said he has heard complaints from several of those charged with disorderly conduct and is weighing those complaints against the facts of the cases. He said most of the people were from out of town and unfamiliar with local laws. Considering that, the fact that they spent time in jail and, in some cases, lost their Masters tickets and money, could be enough punishment for their transgressions, he said.
In addition, most of those charged have long distances to travel – as far away as Canada and California – to return, should they want to have their day in court, he said.
“You have to temper justice with mercy sometimes,” he said.
James said that he had looked at about a quarter of the cases so far and that unless someone had additional charges or caused problems for the arresting officer, he thinks dismissal is likely.
Should he choose to do so, James will have to make a formal motion with the court, and it will be up to the presiding magistrate judge to dismiss the case. Chief Magistrate Judge Williams Jennings III said Friday he could not comment on the cases that might come before him. He will wait for James’ motion, if it comes. In general, he said judges are inclined to follow the recommendation of a prosecutor who chooses not to proceed, but not always.
James said he will make recommendations next week. Most of the cases have very similar circumstances, so just dismissing a few won’t be a good option, he said.
“My policy is what we do for one, we do for all,” James said.
If James moves to dismiss all the cases, however, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said, he won’t remain quiet.
“If he does that he is going to hear from me, because it was violation of the law,” Strength said. “There is just one question on any of this, ‘Is it against the law or is it not against the law?’ ”
Strength says he stands behind the arrests because something has to be done to discourage the swarms of people who wait outside of Augusta National’s gates harassing patrons for tickets as they leave. He said no one is considering how the golf patrons feel about that.
“I’ve got two or three calls from patrons who said, ‘Thank you for what you were doing out there,’ ” he said.
The sheriff’s office has tried warnings and issuing citations to those who violate the state law by selling tickets within 2,700 feet of the gates, but people persist in doing it no matter what, Strength said.
“It is just like panhandling,” he said. “We don’t want that downtown, so what would you do if somebody was asking for money out in front of your business?”
Strength said he and other officials will probably have a “sit down” with Augusta National to see what can be done to improve the situation for next year, including the possibility of posting signs addressing the state scalping law.
James said signs to help visitors understand the law would be good to consider.
“We don’t want to give the city a bad name,” James said. “We don’t want our Masters visitors thinking that the city is trying to take advantage of our guests.”