Scott County Settles in ACLU Suit

By DUSTIN WHITLOCK,
On Tuesday, June 27, Judge Henry T. Wingate approved a settlement in a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and MacArthur Justice Center against Scott County on behalf of Josh Bassett and Octavious Burks. 
Bassett was jailed for eight months without receiving legal representation, and Burks was jailed for ten months without representation. Bassett’s charges were dismissed, and Burks was never indicted.
The settlement stipulates that a chief public defender and two assistant lawyers must be hired for the four counties of Scott, Newton, Neshoba, and Leake which share the same judicial circuit. The counties complied with this stipulation in April, before the settlement was approved, and the counties have been providing public defense since.
The financing of the public defenders is divided between the four counties — with Scott and Neshoba paying 30 percent each, and the remaining 40 percent divided equally between Leake and Newton. When asked why Scott and Neshoba each pay a larger share, Scott County Comptroller, Kim Fultz said that it is likely “because we have more cases.”
The settlement ends automatic or mandatory bail amounts, and it leaves the implementation of a bail and its amount to the discretion of the presiding judge.
The settlement also requires that arrestees be given a form to request public defense.
Scott County attorney, Noble Lee said, “It is an appropriate settlement, and it was settled in a way that I don’t think these issues will arise again.”
Lee added, “This will help reduce liability and help reduce expenses (for the county) in the long run.”
The ACLU claimed the county’s procedures violated the Sixth and 14th Amendments, including rights to a speedy and public trial, rights against excessive and punitive pre-indictment detention, and rights to an individualized bail hearing and determination.
Prior to this settlement, arrestees that could not afford bail were detained indefinitely until a grand jury was empaneled and indictment was delivered. Due to the lengthy periods between the empaneling of grand juries, felony arrestees could remain incarcerated for months in Scott County.
Brandon Buskey of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project described in the Clarion Ledger the previous standards of procedure as, “Trap doors for the poor.”
On the details of a monetary settlement, Scott County’s attorney in this case, Will Allen said, “We have not executed and finalized a monetary agreement.” Allen added that there could be an agreement “By Monday (July 3) at the earliest.” Settlement figures were not available at press time.
Burks was arrested in 2012 for possession of a firearm by a felon. Basset was arrested in 2014 for grand larceny and possession of methamphetamine.

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