ACLU Alleges Lawyer 'Extorted' Arrestee's Mother for Son's Defense
By Taylor Cooper | The Brunswick News
The American Civil Liberties Union filed an amendment Tuesday to a lawsuit lodged in U.S. District Court over the county’s cash bail system, claiming State Court Public Defender Reid Zeh required a $2,500 payment to represent a man charged with a misdemeanor.
Robert Cox couldn’t afford an attorney, so Zeh was appointed to represent him in State Court, but still sought payment from his mother, Barbara Hamilton, the ACLU alleges in the complaint. Glynn County taxpayers cover the cost of a State Court public defender to represent those who can’t afford an attorney in misdemeanor cases and traffic issues.
Initial filings in the case claim the county’s cash bail system — in which someone who is arrested by county law enforcement may pay a predetermined amount to secure their release from jail until their first court date — is unconstitutional.
The system discriminates against those who are “financially strapped,” as anyone who can’t pay could be stuck in jail for weeks or months with no opportunity to request a hearing to seek their release, the ACLU claims in a press release.
“Glynn County officials continue to operate two different criminal justice systems — one for people with money and another for people without,” Andrea Woods, Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, stated in the release. “Reid Zeh has not only ignored his duty to advocate for poor arrestees who need his help, he has abused this position of trust by extorting people like Ms. Hamilton when they seek his help for themselves or a loved one.”
The ACLU alleges that Glynn County, Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump and Glynn County Chief Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood violated citizens’ 14th Amendment rights to equal protection and due process by administering the bail system. Zeh and the county are further alleged to have violated indigent misdemeanor arrestees’ 6th Amendment rights to counsel and equal protection through counsel.
According to the release, the ACLU is seeking an “immediate and permanent change” to the bail and misdemeanor public defender system.
Glynn County and Jump contended in court documents filed in April that they are not in any position to change the misdemeanor cash bond process, as it was created by the state legislature. Regardless, the county maintained the system is constitutional and “provides a timely, meaningful and individualized determination of indigency for bail-determination purposes,” in its response to the initial filing.
Attorneys for the county and Jump also claimed an injunction sought by the ACLU in the case didn’t adequately specify “the acts it seeks to restrain or require.” It would not be able to prove an injunction against the state necessary, either, the county’s attorneys claimed in their response.
The ACLU is still seeking class certification for the case.