New Orleans judge is the latest to strike down money bail after class-action suit
Following a ruling by Houston judge Lee H. Rosenthal of Federal District Court last year, Judge Eldon E. Fallon of the Louisiana Eastern District Court has also ruled against the implementation of money bail, calling it a violation of equal protection and due process. In the New Orleans case, the judge struck down the city’s kickback system, which allowed a cut of the bail to go back to the court system itself.
Bryce Covert broke the news on Twitter and has also covered the inequality in the money bail system at large. “On June 27, Gisclair and another plaintiff who couldn’t afford bail filed a class-action lawsuit against Judge Cantrell, claiming that his use of cash bail violates arrestees’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment,” Covert wrote for the Nation. “The lawsuit argues that ‘the money-based orders of post-arrest release that he imposes constitute de facto orders of pretrial detention for those unable to pay.’ Louisiana law diverts a small percentage of every bail bond contracted with a bondsman back to the budgets of the people in charge: to the court, the sheriff, the district attorney, even the public defenders. The Orleans Parish Criminal District Court rakes in about $1 million a year from this kickback. This arrangement, the lawsuit argues, is ‘an institutional financial conflict of interest.’”
Even Mark Zuckerberg is in on this push against the money bail system. His wife Priscilla Chan and his joint foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, are big-time backers of Civil Rights Corps, a startup which has declared war on the money bail system. As Ryan J. Reilly wrote for the Huffington Post in 2017, “Civil Rights Corps has had some success. In one landmark case against Harris County, Texas ― a large jurisdiction with a massive jail with a higher per capita death rate than most other facilities in the country, according to HuffPost’s jail deaths investigation ― a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that forced officials to release misdemeanor defendants who couldn’t afford bail within 24 hours of their arrest.”
In February 2018, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra declared that the money bail system did not, in fact, keep citizens safer from those labeled a “danger to society,” telling reporters at a press conference “It’s time for bail reform now… Today’s bail system does not make you safer, because if you’ve got the money, and you’re dangerous, you still get out, you should not be allowed free if you are a harm to society.”
It appears that the elimination of the money bail system is, for now anyway, approaching the horizon, even if it has resistance from bail bondsmen and some law enforcement officials. Invoking the Constitution in these arguments creates a legal basis against the legality of a money bail system which disproportionately affects Black and non-Black people of color who are on the wrong side of the socioeconomic line.
Wow, a federal judge just struck down New Orlean’s money bail system saying it violates equal protection and due process.
— Bryce Covert (@brycecovert) August 6, 2018