ACLU claims victory in lawsuit against Hidalgo County
Fri, 17 Feb 2012 04:37:47 GMT —
The American Civil Liberties Union is claiming victory against Hidalgo County in a case from 2010.
The county said the group is simply spinning it their own way.
The ACLU claimed Hidalgo County violated the constitution when jailing teens who could not pay fines for skipping school.
Hidalgo County countered the case dealt with everyone who can't afford fines.
The county said those who can't are given other options besides jail such as community service.
In a 48-page court order, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane granted plaintiff Francisco De Luna damages of $1.00.
That amount is what the judge thinks De Luna suffered when he was thrown in jail without an affirmative indigency determination.
An affirmative indigency determination is when a court finds out if a person is financially capable of paying a court fine.
De Luna's $1.00 award is what the ACLU considers its victory.
In a press release, ACLU of Texas Legal Director Lisa Graybill said, We have a crystal-clear ruling that Hidalgo County's conduct was unconstitutional."
The attorney defending Hidalgo County disagrees.
"Mr. De Luna gets one dollar. He's out of the case, said attorney Reynaldo Ortiz. There is no class certification. There's no injunctive relief. The county didn't have to change any policies, so that's what's crystal clear."
Ortiz said what was supposed to prove a widespread practice of jailing poor people dwindled to just a couple lawsuits.
"There was only two people who actually filed a lawsuit, said Ortiz. But ACLU comes down here to stir the pot, and it's cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars."
What cost the county hundreds of thousands ended with a plaintiff getting just $1.00.
Ortiz said the ruling clears Hidalgo County of wrongdoing.
The ACLU, however, considers the case a notice to Hidalgo County: put people in jail for not paying fines, without determining their ability to pay the money, you could be held liable.
Ortiz said there is one more plaintiff in this case.
He said the judge is working to determine what damages if any she suffered.
She is set to be in court Friday morning.