Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Setback for 'pay to stay' jail policy

By William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A federal court ruling on Tuesday could kill the “pay to stay” program at the Hamilton County Justice Center.

        “I think this is pretty much it for the sheriff,” attorney Robert Newman said. “The amount of money involved is well in excess of $1 million.

        “People brought into the jail had up to $30 taken from their wallets,” he said.

        U.S. District Court Judge S. Arthur Spiegel on Tuesday granted class action status to those who were charged a booking fee in the Justice Center's pay-to-stay program, which means those who faced such charges could be reimbursed.

        Judge Spiegel certified the class as “all persons whose funds were confiscated before conviction under the Hamilton County pay to stay program.”

        “You can't take someone's money before they have a hearing,” Mr. Newman said, noting he is optimistic about a favorable court ruling on his motion for summary judgment.

        Most of the class members were charged a $7 or $8 booking fee, Mr. Newman said, “which isn't a lot of money per se.” But he noted most of the people who had their money taken were indigent.

        “It matters pretty much to people who had their last cent taken from them,” he said.

        In April, Mr. Newman and two other attorneys filed a federal class action complaint accusing the jail of seizing money from suspects as pay to stay fees and failing to return them when people were freed. The complaint, which seeks a change in county policy and unspecified damages, named as defendants Sheriff Simon L. Leis Jr., who runs the jail, and the county commissioners.

        Bond Hill resident Anthony Allen, in his 30s, was named as plaintiff.

        Anthony Allen was booked and held for 12 hours on an outstanding traffic warrant based on an erroneous computer entry. He then tried and failed to get his $30 booking fee returned.

        Sheriff's spokesman Steve Barnett confirmed that deputies collect a booking charge of up to $30, but “the policy is that the money is return if they are not convicted.”

        In June, Judge Spiegel issued a preliminary ruling that the pay to stay program may violate the rights of inmates.

        Prosecutor Mike Allen, whose office is defending the sheriff, said the state law allowing pay to stay fees is constitutional.


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