The city of Sherwood and Judge Milas “Butch” Hale III have responded to the ACLU-backed lawsuit alleging that the hot check court they operate amounts to a debtors’ prison, with unending fees and jail for people originally charged with misdemeanor hot checks. In short, the defendants say: Not guilty.
The city and judge deny all allegations of unconstitutional conduct. While admitting some general descriptions of procedure, the response frequently takes exception to how actions are characterized, such as when the lawsuit said one plaintiff was “snared” by the system.Sherwood and the judge say the plaintiffs haven’t made a valid claim and that the lawsuit amounts to unlawful collateral attack on criminal convictions. They say their actions were lawful and based on reasonable interpretations of the law.
The response says they have insufficient information to refute many of the individual tales of woe told by individual plaintiffs, beyond initial check charges. They did, however, dispute some factual assertions. For example: one plaintiff’s complaint that she was charged for an insufficient fund check when they said it was written from a closed account. And they also disputed another plaintiff’s complaint that he still faced $2,600 in fines and costs from a 2009 hot check.
Significantly, the response claims that the court does consider a defendant’s ability to pay charges assessed and will work out payment plans. And, among dozens of general denials, they also specifically deny a claim that a plaintiff, Nakit Lewis, was jailed because she couldn’t afford to pay her fines. But the response doesn’t give an alternative explanation.
No trial date has been set.