ACLU files suit against Sherwood for 'hot check court' and arrests
SHERWOOD (KATV) —
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the City of Sherwood, its district court judge, and Pulaski County. The suit claims they're violating a person's due process rights, and preying on the poor, by creating a never-ending spiral in hot check cases.
This lawsuit claims that the Sherwood courts are trapping people into a never-ending spiral of repetitive court proceedings and ever-increasing debt, adding it's been happening for the past 25 years or so.
The suit also claims they’re creating an atmosphere of confusion and intimidation. That's just one accusation as part of the lawsuit filed against Sherwood and its district judge, Judge Milas “Butch” Hale, and Pulaski County.
"In this country, you cannot be jailed if you cannot pay your debts. That's called debtors' prison and that's something we did away with some 200 years ago,” said Rita Sklar, ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director.
The suit was filed on behalf of four people who were convicted of hot check crimes and one taxpayer, and it’s alleging that their constitutional rights were violated by the hot check division of the Sherwood District Court, when they were jailed for their inability to pay court fines and fees.
"A single bounced check written 10 years ago for $15 can be leveraged into a debt of thousands and thousands of dollars in fines and fees for inability to pay the original check and then inability to pay the payments that were set up,” added Sklar.
It goes on to say the hot check court hearings held every Thursday are held in secret, with no transcripts available and closed off to the public. It also adds that hot check defendants are unknowingly signing a waiver of counsel because they’re told they must fill the form out to enter the courtroom.
KATV reached out to all parties named in this suit, but only heard back from Judge Hale.
Hale released this statement to KATV:
We do not run a so called 'debtor's prison' in Sherwood. If a defendant pleads guilty, or is found guilty, of writing a hot check we set up a payment plan. It is only after the third or fourth time that they fail to comply with a court order that we incarcerate