By Sierra Rains
Following allegations regarding unconstitutional practice within the Ardmore Municipal Court, officials say steps are being taken to improve the process.
Local criminal defense attorney Jason May raised concerns regarding Julie Austin’s practice as the municipal court Judge after sitting in on a municipal court hearing Tuesday, Sept. 3.
“I noticed that Judge Austin was essentially giving people fines and then telling them that they had to pay them before they could be released from jail — which you cannot do. You’re required by law to give people a payment plan and let them out so that they can make their payments,” May told The Ardmoreite on Sept. 17.
After previously stating that he was not aware of any legal violations through text message, Ardmore City Manager J.D. Spohn released a press release on Friday, Sept. 20 addressing the situation.
Spohn oversees the municipal court and appointed Austin as judge last year.
“Once the City became aware of possible issues, it directed legal counsel to conduct an appropriate inquiry. The City has been advised that the particular cases and circumstances that formed the basis of Mr. May’s comments were somewhat unusual and not the prevailing practice of the Municipal Court,” Spohn wrote.
However, Spohn stated that the City “takes all concerns seriously and initiated steps to determine if there were areas where the process could be improved”.
Based on the results of the inquiry, Spohn stated that new procedures and forms designed to assist the municipal judge in determining whether a person is able to pay fines and/or costs have been implemented, effective Sept. 20.
During a municipal court hearing on the morning of Sept. 20, Judge Austin did allow individuals to set up payment plans, contrary to her former proceedings.
However, Austin declined to comment following the hearing. The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C. previously stated that if Judge Austin did not cease the practice immediately, further legal action would be considered.
“The City believes that these new procedures will aid in ensuring that the rights of each person appearing in Municipal Court are protected and will also aid in the protection of the interests of the citizens of Ardmore,” Spohn wrote in the press release.
Ardmore implements new procedures in response to allegations of unconstitutional practice in municipal court
By Sierra Rains