Judge issues restraining order against Sentinel

McGee's lawyers contend Sentinel violated ruling
McGee

A judge placed a temporary restraining order Friday on a private probation company that continues to hound a mentally ill veteran for money his attorneys say he doesn't owe.

Hills McGee filed a lawsuit in Richmond County Superior Court against Sentinel Offender Services, and Judge Michael N. Annis signed the restraining order.

The temporary restraining order prevents Sentinel from taking any action against McGee and requires the company's representatives to explain to the judge why they should not be held in contempt of court.

McGee was jailed earlier this year for a probation violation, but Annis ordered his immediate release on Jan. 27. The judge voided and ruled unconstitutional the probation violation and underlying no-contest pleas in October 2008 to obstruction of a law officer and public drunkenness that put McGee in jail and forced him to use Sentinel.

There was no way the state could prove that McGee -- who lives on a $243 monthly disability check -- understood what he was doing when he gave up his rights to defense counsel in Richmond County State Court, the judge said.

The probation violation was based on McGee's failure to pay Sentinel $186 in supervision fees. Because Annis voided the convictions, McGee's lawyers contend he no longer owes anything as a condition of probation because he is not on probation.

According to the new lawsuit, however, Sentinel sent McGee letters dated March 8 and April 1 that accuse him of violating his probation by not paying the $186 or reporting to his probation officer.

The letters state that a no-bond warrant for McGee's arrest may be issued if he failed to report to Sentinel this week, according to a copy of one letter attached to the new lawsuit.

McGee's attorneys contend Sentinel should be punished for contempt of court for disobeying Annis' ruling and for attempting to collect a debt that is not owed.

The lawsuit further seeks to have class-action status, a ruling that the state law allowing private probation companies is unconstitutional, a finding that Sentinel has engaged in racketeering and the restriction of future use of non-bondable warrants against people who fail to pay Sentinel. It also seeks to put Sentinel out of business.

Sentinel will have the opportunity to counter each allegation. A hearing for the company has not been scheduled.