Suit accusing Orleans judges of effectively running debtors prison heard Wednesday

Debtors prison hearing
Updated: Oct. 11, 2017 at 6:43 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A lawsuit from 2015 accusing New Orleans judges of running a debtor's prison will get a hearing Wednesday.

The crux of the case is whether criminal court judges can jail people, in this case mostly poor defendants, who can't pay court costs.

State criminal district court judges want U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Vance to throw out a suit filed by a handful of defendants who claim they were put behind bars when they couldn't pay up.

The suit claims criminal court judges use jail and threats of jail to collect court debts, even though the U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled governments can't jail people because they cannot afford to pay court debts.

The money collected through the questioned costs makes up a portion of the budget which judges use to pay employee salaries and court expenses.

According to our partners at | The Times-Picayune, one criminal court judge told city leaders if the practice is ruled unconstitutional, funding to keep criminal court running could be placed on the back of the taxpayers.

The civil rights attorneys for the plaintiffs want a declaration that the practice is unconstitutional.

The judge's say they've taken steps to address the complaints and the debts owed have been resolved.

The plaintiff's attorneys point to a Georgia ruling last year that ruled pre-determined bail amounts applied to poor people are unconstitutional.

The hearing scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

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