Progress in a federal American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging the cash bond system used locally could halt after the defendants in the case filed Wednesday a motion to dismiss and a companion request to stay all evidence discovery pending a resolution of the motion to dismiss.
The ACLU filed suit against Glynn County, Sheriff Neal Jump, Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood and State Court public defender Reid Zeh — on behalf of two misdemeanor trespassing suspects — in March. Attorneys for the organization and the accused stated the cash bond system as administered by the county unconstitutionally “discriminates against people who are financially strapped.”
The argument is that people accused of misdemeanor crimes, who have the financial means, could bond out immediately, while those who cannot have to spend their time indefinitely detained.
As noted in the motion’s supporting brief, “At the time of plaintiffs’ arrests, if an arrestee did not post bond, he or she was detained and, unless otherwise released, brought to an initial appearance before a Glynn County judge within 48 hours after an arrest without a warrant, and within 72 hours for an arrest pursuant to a warrant.
“Typically, the initial appearance of arrestees occurs at a regularly scheduled court date on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Until recently, there was not a written procedure utilized to determine whether a misdemeanor arrestee was indigent or financially unable to meet bail, and no such procedure or requirement was mandated by (state law).”
That recent event was the passage of Senate Bill 407 by the state General Assembly — which occurred following the ACLU lawsuit — and Gov. Nathan Deal signed it into law May 7. The bond reform law specifically dictates courts to consider the accused’s financial resources. Atwood helped develop and Judge Bart Altman signed off April 9 on a new standing bond order for the named plaintiffs.
The defendants further state, “As set forth in the defendants’ brief opposing plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction … there are no detainees arrested for misdemeanor offenses in the Glynn County Detention System, who are otherwise eligible for release, but have been detained longer than 48 hours due to their poverty or financial inability to make bond.”
Also, the defense argues Glynn County cannot be responsible in the case because any “action taken by judges in Glynn County with respect to bail determinations do not implicate a Glynn County policy.”
The defense states in the motion Jump cannot be held responsible either, because “federal case law has found (the title ‘county sheriff’) to be ‘a geographic label,’ and noted that a sheriff is functionally a state official” … and has no policymaking authority regarding bail. He is also entitled to immunity under the sovereign immunity doctrine, since he was acting as an arm of the state. The same immunity would cover Atwood, in addition to other legal protections.
In regard to Zeh, the defense argues he cannot be sued as a state actor, and that case law shows private lawyers — even if court-appointed — are not considered state actors when acting on behalf of their clients.
May 7, the plaintiffs filed a response to the defense’s opposition to the preliminary injunction against the cash bond system. In regard to SB 407, they argue that while it “establishes a requirement that judges consider an arrestee’s finances prior to setting bail, it does not offer a timeline, only instructing judges to conduct this inquiry ‘as soon as possible.’ It also does not require a specific finding that an arrestee can satisfy any monetary conditions.”
The plaintiffs also contend that Glynn County data shows since April 9, 64 people have been detained on misdemeanor charges at the county jail, with 13 held longer than 48 hours, eight held longer than 72 hours and one person held for 11 days, essentially violating the county’s own standing bond order.
“Four of these individuals were held until their sentencing hearing, thus suffering the pretrial orders of detention defendants purport to have eliminated,” according to the response.