SPLC, city settle suit

Published 1:58 pm Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Bogalusa City Court, have agreed to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the SPLC last year. The agreement was approved on Wednesday by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The settlement provides for certain procedural changes in the operation of the Bogalusa City Court, which the parties believe will enhance the administration of criminal justice as well as safeguard rights of defendants who appear in city court. Under the settlement, the court retains the authority to impose appropriate sentences for criminal violations, including imposing immediate jail time at initial sentencing.

The Bogalusa City Court, however, will make a finding on the record to establish whether an individual is indigent at sentencing, and will make an explicit finding that failing to pay was willful before imposing jail time. It will also transfer a portion of the money collected from court costs and fees to the city of Bogalusa.

Individuals who are found unable to pay their fines and costs may not be sentenced to jail for nonpayment. These and other settlement provisions are consistent with and motivated in part by the criminal justice reforms, which are being implemented in state and municipal courts across the country.

This settlement agreement was entered into voluntarily by the SPLC and the city court. There has been no finding of civil rights violations. The settlement also confirms that there will be no award of damages or attorney fees. The parties previously settled a claim to refund certain money that had been paid to the city court as an “extension fee.”

The Bogalusa City Court is pleased that this matter has been resolved.

“We commend the Bogalusa City Court for voluntarily implementing these new procedures to ensure that no one is jailed simply because they are poor,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “Everyone deserves a fair day in court, and these reforms in Bogalusa reinforce that protection.”