The ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center have filed a federal lawsuit in the Middle District of Louisiana, alleging that a Baton Rouge pretrial services company required hundreds of state inmates to pay “fees” far in excess of their court-ordered bail before they could be released from jail. The lawsuit further alleges that the pretrial services company, Rehabilitation Home Incarceration (RHI), was actively assisted by state judge Trudy White. RHI apparently supported Judge White’s 2014 re-election bid.
Although RHI has no formal contract with the state court system, Judge White allegedly ordered more than 300 criminal defendants to complete RHI’s services in 2015 and 2016–without ever inquiring into each defendant’s financial status. RHI subsequently charged the defendants hundreds of dollars in fees for its services–including a $525 “signup fee.” As a result, the suit alleges, hundreds of defendants were forced to languish in jail while friends and family scrambled to raise the needed money.
At this point, these are only allegations. But we will follow this lawsuit closely. The caption is Ayo et al. v. Dunn. et al., Case No. 3:17-cv-526.
We previously reported on a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by a local chapter of the NAACP, alleging that the state’s current at-large voting system for state judges disadvantages minority groups. The plaintiffs are seeking to replace the current system with a system of five single-member districts, one of which would be drawn to include a majority of African-American and other minority groups among its residents.
A bench trial began in mid-March, and both parties rested their cases on Friday. The Daily Comet, a local Louisiana newspaper, has a good wrap-up of the dramatic testimony on the final day. The decision now rests with U.S. District Judge James Brady, who has instructed both sides to file post-trial briefs by June 8. A decision is expected by August.
In February 2014, the local branch of the NAACP in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, filed a federal civil rights action alleging that the system used to elect judges in the state’s 32nd Judicial District violated the federal Voting Rights and the U.S. Constitution. More than three years and several procedural twists later, the case went to trial this week in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
Terrebonne Parish currently elects all five of its state judges using an “at-large” system, meaning that all judges are chosen by a parish-wide vote even though each judge presides over a specific division of the court. Plaintiffs argue that this system disenfranchises minority voters, and are seeking to replace it with five judge-specific voting districts, one of which would be a minority district.
Aside from the substantive importance of the parties’ positions, this case is another interesting example of federal challenges to state judicial election practices.
Continue reading “Trial begins in Louisiana judicial election voting rights case”