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Federal lawsuit filed against Judge Bass and Grady County

Grady County State Court Judge Bill Bass is in hot water again.
The Southern Center for Human Rights has sued Judge Bass and Grady County in federal court for the alleged collection of unauthorized court costs from defendants over a seven year period.
According to the lawsuit, which Grady County officials learned of last Wednesday, Judge Bass charged Grady County State Court defendants unauthorized fees averaging from $700 to $800 per defendant.
The Southern Center for Human Rights alleges that Bass began charging the administrative fee as a moneymaker for the county’s general fund.
According to court documents, the Southern Center for Human Rights calculates $296,711 was collected by the county unlawfully from about 540 defendants between June 2011 and July 2012.
Judge Bass acknowledged the administrative costs were unauthorized in March when the state Judicial Qualifications Commission brought ethics charges against Judge Bass.
The JQC examined charges that Judge Bass had charged the additional unauthorized fees in order to boost county revenue. In the middle of the ethics trial Judge Bass reached a settlement with the JQC which included a 60-day suspension, public reprimand and a pledge not to seek re-election when his term expires on Dec. 31, 2014.
In the federal suit the Southern Center for Human Rights is requesting Grady County return the fines averaging $700 to $800 per defendant that was allegedly wrongfully collected.
The suit was filed on behalf of Statesboro resident Roberta Imogene Jones. Ms. Jones  pled guilty to driving under the influence in Grady County State Court in July 2012 and was charged the $700 administrative fee.
According to center lawyers, Bass only had the authority to order payment of a $300 fine and surcharges.
Grady County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley said he first learned the suit had been filed in an email he received last Wednesday.
Cauley will brief Grady County commissioners during a closed door session tomorrow morning.
“We have taken the matter under advisement and we will respond as appropriate,” Cauley said.
According Sarah Geraghty, a senior attorney for the Southern Center, her office is investigating to see if other courts in Georgia impose unauthorized court costs on defendants.
Geraghty told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Grady County has no right to this money and should return it.”

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