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Jones v. Grady County

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Albany Division

August 13, 2014



W. LOUIS SANDS, District Judge.

The above-captioned putative class action suit, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleges violations of the Due Process and Takings Clauses of the United States Constitution. (Doc. 1 at 16 & 18.) The suit also purports to assert claims for violations of the Georgia Constitution and other state law statutes and doctrines. ( Id. at 19.) The complaint alleges that Grady County State Court Judge J. William Bass Sr. caused the State Court to unlawfully collect an "administrative cost" from the named Plaintiff and putative class members. ( Id. at ¶ 2.) Allegedly, the funds were then deposited into the Grady County Treasury by Grady County officials. ( Id. at ¶ 14.) Defendants Grady County and Judge J. William Bass Sr. have filed motions to dismiss the referenced complaint. (Docs. 4 & 9.) For the reasons that follow, Grady County's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 4) is GRANTED-IN-PART and DENIED-IN-PART and Bass' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 9) is DENIED. Also, Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Affidavits from Consideration (Doc. 32) is GRANTED.


The State Court of Grady County is located in Cairo, Georgia, and has jurisdiction over misdemeanor criminal cases. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 20.) Since 2002, Defendant Judge J. William Bass Sr. ("Bass"), a resident of Grady County, Georgia, has presided over the State Court of Grady County. ( Id. at ¶¶ 15 & 20.) Bass is directly responsible for the daily management, administration, and operation of that court. ( Id. at ¶ 15.) Shortly after his election to the bench, Bass devised a plan to use the Grady County State Court to collect additional funds for Defendant Grady County ("Grady County" or "the County"). ( Id. at ¶ 21.) To that end, Bass unlawfully required State Court defendants to pay "administrative costs" in addition to statutorily authorized fines and surcharges.[2] ( Id. ) In many cases, the administrative cost totaled $700-$800 per defendant, and most defendants who appeared before Bass were required to pay some amount in such costs. ( Id. at ¶¶ 21 & 22.) Between July 2011 and July 2012, about 540 State Court defendants paid administrative costs totaling approximately $296, 711.00. ( Id. at ¶ 22.) The average of such cost for that period was $613.00. ( Id. ) Bass charged those costs for at least seven years. ( Id. at ¶ 2.) Grady County received the funds collected by Bass and the Grady County State Court from the named Plaintiff and other putative class members, and County officials deposited the same into the County treasury. ( Id. at ¶ 14.) At a minimum, Grady County knowingly acquiesced to Bass' policy of charging Grady County State Court defendants administrative costs. ( Id. )

Bass caused the State Court of Grady County to create a special system to facilitate the collection of the referenced costs. ( Id. at ¶ 24.) Bass revised the State Court's then-existing sentencing disposition forms by adding a category for the administrative costs. ( Id. ) That category was distinct from the category for punitive fines. ( Id. ) When entering the administrative costs into the State Court's computer system, the court's clerks categorized the costs as "restitution." ( Id. ) That designation caused the referenced costs to be disbursed to Grady County before they were disbursed to the State of Georgia. ( Id. )

Bass charged administrative costs to raise revenue for the County and to provide a basis for an increase in his own personal salary. ( Id. at ¶ 25.) In July 2012, Bass delivered a document to the county governing authority requesting an annual salary increase from $40, 000 to $60, 000. ( Id. at ¶ 26; see Doc. 1-2 at 1.) That letter stated as follows:

I need my salary raised to $60, 000 per year.
Why should you do it?
1. My total compensation' is about $40, 000 of salary and $15, 000 of insurance. I don't take the insurance, but it's still part of my compensation, and, by law, that can't be lowered while I am in office. So, raising my salary to $60, 000 won't cost the county one red cent, considering that the county hasn't had the expense of furnishing my insurance for several years (and won't have to do so for the next two years).
2. I've never asked for any kind of raise. Although this is a part time [sic] job, it requires my attention on a full time [sic] basis. And, because people don't think that judges can practice law, it's simply hard to earn a living.
3. This court, because of the extra time and energy that I spend, contributes more than $350, 000 per year to the county. Although I don't get concerned about raising money for the county', [sic] I work hard to maximize what get's [sic] turned over. At $40, 000 per year, the next judge will not be able, or willing, to do that. The judge must go beyond the call of the job to produce that much for the county. To keep the income at that standard, the judge has got to be able to devote the time and energy required.
4. I also fill in for the Probate Judge when she is out of town, and, [sic] I've helped the Magistrate Court whenever I am asked... all of this at no charge to the county.
I am your State Court judge. I want to be able to continue to make it perform for the county as it should. I wouldn't ask you to do this, [sic] if I saw any alternative. Remember, the performance of this court isn't an accident... I don't cry "Wolf!"... I humbly ask for your support in this matter.

(Doc. 1-2 at 1) (emphasis in original.) Plaintiff Roberta Imogene Jones ("Jones") is a resident of Statesboro, Georgia. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 13.) She works night shifts at a poultry processing plant. ( Id. ) On July 9, 2012, Jones pleaded guilty to Driving Under the Influence, First Offense, in Grady County State Court. ( Id. ) Because she could not afford a lawyer, she appeared before Bass without counsel. ( Id. ) Bass sentenced Jones to one year of probation at a cost of $44 per month and imposed a fine of $300. ( Id. ) Those costs and fees were stated to "includ[e] all surcharges and add-ons." ( Id. ) Bass also ordered Jones to pay Grady County $700 in administrative costs. ( Id. ) Jones paid all fines, costs, and charges related to her case. ( Id. at ¶ 29.)

On December 14, 2012, the Judicial Qualifications Commission ("JQC") filed a Notice of Formal Proceedings against Bass, charging him with violations of the law and Code of Judicial Conduct. ( Id. at ¶ 30.) As to the collection of administrative costs, the JQC charged Bass as follows:

A. You violated Canon 2A ("judges shall respect and comply with the law") and/or Canon 3B ("judges should be faithful to the law") of the Code of Judicial Conduct when you, without legal authority, ordered the collection of ...

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