Judge Black disputes SPLC lawsuit claims

Published 4:44 am Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Through a spokesman, Bogalusa City Court Judge Robert Black said a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center last year accusing him of operating a “debtor’s prison,” and a press release issued by the SPLC last week mischaracterized his actions and ignored the facts of the plaintiff’s case.

The SPLC press release stated that one lawsuit plaintiff “stole $5 worth of food to feed his family,” and inferred he was incarcerated “since he couldn’t pay the fine to get out.”

Black’s spokesman, James Hartman, said the facts are that the plaintiff, Rozzie Scott, appeared in Black’s court for a theft offense — pizza worth $4.91 and toothpaste worth $3.50 — and Black sentenced him on April 25, 2016, to a suspended jail term conditioned upon him paying on a fine.

When Scott was unable to pay the fine at sentencing, the judge granted him an extension to June 13, 2016. When the date of the extension arrived and the plaintiff did not pay, Black granted Scott yet another extension upon payment of a $50 extension fee, and he was reserved to pay on July 25, 2016, Hartman said. Before the third date arrived and before Scott served time on the theft charge, the man filed the lawsuit through the SPLC, and Hartman said Black immediately recused himself from the case.

As the lawsuit progressed, Scott was arrested for “a violent felony that resulted in someone’s death, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for negligent homicide, and five years for the charge of convicted felon in possession of a firearm,” Hartman said.

“In their recent release, the SPLC has omitted their own plaintiff’s extensive criminal history, both prior and subsequent to his sentencing in the theft case,” Hartman said.

The Bogalusa City Court has agreed to settle a portion of the suit as it relates to the $50 extension/re-docketing fee because it was not statutorily authorized, although it is a common practice of many courts in the state of Louisiana. The remaining portions of the plaintiff’s suit are on track to be heard by the U.S. District Court.