The criminal court of New Orleans could become an unconstitutional prison of debaters for imprisoning people who cannot afford to pay court fees, claims a federal judge who has recently cleared the way for a trial on the lawsuit. Late Thursday, U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance ruled that the lawsuit as belonging in the federal court, shooting down an attempt by state district judges to discredit the case and throw it out. The current ruling is cleared for an August trial.
The lawsuit was filed in September of last year, stating that many criminal court judges frequently used the threat of jail to collect court fees from poor people in New Orleans, some of which have even been thrown into jail. Similar lawsuits have been filed in several states, though this particular one casts the blame on the New Orleans Sheriff’s Office and the city government, naming them as defendants. The initial suit was filed by six plaintiffs who claim they were jailed unconstitutionally for owing court debts and want the court to rule that their constitutional rights were violated and a monetary compensation was reasonable for the mistreatment they had suffered.
On the authority of a New Orleans attorney Bill Quigley, the city’s constitution does not condone judges throwing people into jail because of the poverty level of the city and stated that the monthly fee of approximately $100 for over several years could be more that what 27% of the New Orleans population who live under the poverty line can afford. He said a more feasible fee of $25 or the option for community service should be made an option.
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Back in 2010, Danelle Keim made a frantic call to 911 seeking to report that Harry Morel, a powerful local prosecutor at the time, had attempted to assault her sexually in her home. Six years have passed and after the FBI held a long-running investigation into Morel’s life, the prosecutor has been labeled a sexual assaulter and will be facing the possibility of a prison sentence.
On Thursday, records were publically released to reveal that the deputies of the sheriff summoned an FBI agent after a woman called for help and also reported the allegations related to the prosecutor who had served as the elected district attorney of St. Charles Parish for 33 years. Morel pleaded guilty to obstructing the federal investigation of the allegations to sexual abuse on more than one occasion. Authorities on the case say Morel wilified his position of power repeatedly to exploit women who came to seek his help, often offering the women or their relatives monetary leniency in return for sexual intercourse. The victim count may be more than the 20 women stated in his confession over his 33-year long tenure in office and US Attorney Kenneth Polite states that they may never fully know the extent of the man’s depravity.
Keim died from a drug overdose back in 2013 when she was 27, and investigators in the case claim her cooperation along with the FBI was instrumental in securing a guilty plea from Morel. It has been difficult to garner evidence and testimonies form the victims, said Polite, and the court could not charge Morel for any of his sexual transgressions but rather charged him for of obstruction of justice for harassing Danielle Keim and repeatedly pressuring her to dispose of the evidence against him in the federal grand jury investigation.