Judge Hub Harrington: Harpersville is Disgraceful
Picture in your mind the administration of "justice" in Harpersville, Alabama. Think slow, southern drawl telling the riff-raff how it's gonna be, how they don't cotton to folks "like you" 'round here, and then pretty much doing anything they please. That's what Shelby County Circuit Judge Hub Harrington found in Burdette v. Town of Harpersville.
When viewed in a light most favorable to Defendants, their testimony concerning the City's court system could reasonably be characterized as the operation of a debtors prison. The court notes that these generally fell into disfavor by the early 1800's, though the practice appears to have remained.ncd common place in Harpersville. From a fair reading of the defendants testimony one might ascertain that a more apt description of the Harpersville Municipal Court practices is that of a judicially sanctioned extortion racket. Most distressing is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law. Disgraceful.
It strikes this Yankee as inconceivable that there are still judicial fiefdoms in this nation that exist outside the recognized law. And yet there are (and not just in the deep south).
The admitted violations are so numerous as to defy a detailed chronicling in this short space. The court will, therefore, attempt to enumerate only the most egregious abuses committed by the Harpersville Municipal Court and its agent for probation services, JCS:
1. Defendants placed on "probation" without an adjudication or sentencing order and/or without receiving a suspended sentence;
2. Defendants placed on "probation" with JCS only when. unable to pay the entire amount of assessed tines and court costs on the day of trial;
3. Defendants incarcerated for a probation violation (failure to pay, failure to appear, contempt of court...) without an adjudication or sentencing Order;
4. Defendants incarcerated for)l' failure to appear in court, though only "ordered" to do so by JCS;
5. A defendants' failure to appear or failure to pay often results in a new criminal charge with incarceration and additional fines and fees for contempt of court with no valid court order or adjudication;
6. Defendants not afforded a hearing as required by Rule 26.11 of the 'Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure;
7. Defendants placed on "extended" probation for many years beyond the two year maximum;
8. Defendants interminably held in the county work release program until all fines and fees are paid in full;
9. Defendants charged unconscionable fines and fees.
10. Defendants placed on "probation" are charged an initial "set up fee" of $10.00 and a monthly "probation tee" of $35.00 (arbitrarily raised to $45.00 per month at some point in time, though the Harpersville JCS contract allows for only $35.00 per month) which is charged as long as the defendant is on probation.
11. Multiple incarcerations were imposed upon the plaintiffs in the case at bar with no adjudication or imposition of sentence and fix probation violations over which the court had absolutely no jurisdiction.
12. Fines and fees charged to the plaintiffs in the case at bar reached into the thousands upon thousands of dollars.
Harpersville acknowledged that it made some "mistakes." That's what it's called when you get caught, whether you're a criminal defendant or a municipal legal system that does whatever it pleases, law be damned.
Judge Hub Harrington (you've got to love the colorful name) recognized that this wasn't merely a judge run amok, or a system that was slightly out of kilter, but a town that had a court system wholly disconnected from anything remotely resembling law in America and in utter ignorance of the Constitution. Aside from addressing specific constitutional violations, and unearthing as yet unknown violations, his remedy went even further:
The mayor and every member of the Harpersville lle City Council shall be present in person for the hearing of August 20, 2012, and shall appear at any and all subsequent hearings in this case until final resolution, or until further Order of the court. These individuals, who are the officials ultimately responsible for the operation of the City, may wish to consult with Mr. Ward regarding the consequences of one's failure to appear, especially when actually ordered by a court to do so.
Prior to the hearing, the mayor and every member of the city council shall have certified to this court in writing and under oath that he/she has read this Order and the depositions of Ward, Hall and Egan.
It might have been wise as well to require the mayor and council members to read and provide a report on the United States Constitution, with emphasis on why they are not exempt from its strictures.
The question remains how this apparently went on in the Town of Harpersville, County of Shelby, State of Alabama, and no one noticed until Dana Burdette brought an action seeking injunctive relief before Judge Hub. It would appear that the town and county share a jail, Wouldn't you think they had some inkling about what was happening in Harpersville Municipal Court?
But then the question of the private contractor for probationary services, JCS, raises independent issues. Certainly, the municipality is responsible for the performance of services by its outside contractor, but bear in mind the qualifications for an elected official in a small town stops dead in its tracks after "breathing." They are not required to know how to spell Constitution, no less be familiar with it.
So when they hand over their responsibilities to an outside "expert" contractor, they give no thought whatsoever to whether that contractor adheres to the requirements of law or, as was the case here, rapes the citizenry while the elected officials sit back and have a cold beer, proud of the efficient way they're running their system.
Thankfully, Judge Hub cared enough to do the unthinkable and seize oversight of this cesspool. Why it too so long for somebody to notice, however, remains a question unanswered, and that's not good enough in America.