Criminal Justice

Judges Who Violate Due Process Rights For Personal Gain Just Got a Major Pass From This Federal Court

Judge Paul Bonin profited from making defendants wear ankle monitors. The victims can't sue.

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A New Orleans judge systematically violated the due process rights of criminal defendants when he pushed them to enroll in ankle monitoring provided by a company with which he shared significant financial, professional, political, and personal ties, according to a suit filed last year. Despite acknowledging substantial evidence of this arrangement, the U.S. District Court for the District of Louisiana has struck down the lawsuit. 

Those who came before Judge Paul Bonin of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court specifically found themselves steered toward ETOH Monitoring LLC, with Bonin consistently tying release from GPS monitoring to paying all fees to the company.

Yet Bonin failed to disclose that he received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions as well as a loan from ETOH, and that he was previously the law partner of one of the company's principals.

That suit against ETOH—in this case, the private company was operating as a state actor—was recently struck down not because the partnership between the two was deemed appropriate, but because ETOH did not have a similar arrangement with other judges. 

"Plaintiffs' allegations depend on the specific relationship between former Judge Bonin and ETOH and therefore fail to state an institutional incentives claim," reads the Court's decision. In other words, the company is protected from liability because the relationship only existed with Bonin, and not across the entire judiciary.

That's a recipe for future corruption, says Jaba Tsitsuashvili, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm. "The judge here held that if the constitutional defect—where an ankle monitoring company's profit incentive is the driving force behind a judge's decisions—if that's only happening in one courtroom, then it's essentially immunized from judicial scrutiny," he says. "If this was the prevailing wisdom, it would [shield] judges and private companies from any sort of judicial scrutiny in the operation of the criminal system."

Hakeem Meade, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, was arrested after he was shot six times by the owner of an auto shop as the two bickered about repairs. The owner also shot Meade's pregnant girlfriend, who lost the twins she was carrying. After six months in Bonin's court—where Meade passed the required drug tests and attended every scheduled court appearance—Bonin ordered him without explanation to enroll in ankle monitoring provided by ETOH. The cost of that monitoring included a $100 installation fee and a $10 daily charge over the course of several months, all of which had to be shouldered by Meade, who at the time worked as a truck driver. He was threatened with jail if he didn't pay.

Another defendant, Marshall Sookram, was originally set free from pretrial detention without monitoring—until he landed in Bonin's court. After a bondsman paired him with a different company, his public defender revealed in court that he would be switching Sookram to ETOH, a few months after Bonin requested the attorney's email address. After over a year on ankle monitoring, Sookram was told by Bonin's court that he would only be set free once he was able to pay the hundreds of dollars in fees charged by ETOH.

Meade and Sookram are not alone. There were dozens of such defendants who were murkily assigned ankle monitoring and specifically pressured to use ETOH, according to a report from Court Watch NOLA (CWN), which reviewed Bonin's financial disclosures and subsequent monitoring practices. 

"On several occasions, Judge Bonin refused to release the defendants from jail until the defendant's family had arranged for ETOH to establish ankle monitoring services," says the report. "On several other occasions, Judge Bonin refused to release criminal defendants from their ankle monitors until the defendant paid ETOH all remaining fees the defendant owed to ETOH. In at least two cases, Judge Bonin threatened to incarcerate the defendant for failing to pay ETOH."

Those sorts of court fines and fees disproportionately harm poor people, making it more difficult for them to reenter society and often meaning they end up back behind bars if they're unable to pay, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Tsitsuashvili, who is representing Meade and Sookram, says he plans to appeal. But it's possible the two will never get any sort of accountability. Bonin left his perch after the two filed suit. Suing him personally is not an option, as judges are protected by absolute immunity, a doctrine that makes it impossible to hold them accountable in civil and criminal court for job-related misconduct.

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39 responses to “Judges Who Violate Due Process Rights For Personal Gain Just Got a Major Pass From This Federal Court

  1. Fuck Joe Biden

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    2. You’re not going to end up in a happy place if you insist on being a bleating cow for the GOP.

      Not everyone has to make politics a hobby.

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          1. Do you know why you hate yourself?

            1. Well, he knows himself better than we know him, so he has MORE reasons to hate himself than we have to dislike him.

        2. I don’t hate Biden. He’s not even a functioning adult, much less a government leader. What the hell is wrong with Biden?

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  3. Any criticism of qualified or absolute immunity is nothing but a Democrat talking point that must be opposed simply because of who supports it.

    1. But Kamala Harris supported it, so you must really be confused and spinning right now, screetch.

    2. I found not a word from Robbie about whether these young fellas had perpetrated any actual crimes, with, say, victims or violence–other than getting shot standing alongside a pregnant girlfriend. But “required drug tests” was all spelled out bigger’n Dallas. Would ANY of these guys be prisoners if laws making plant leaves the accursed Avatars of Satan were repealed and burned like so many Beatles albums?

  4. Still, I’d be willing to guess the vast majority of these defendants benefitted too. Ankle bracelets and monitoring is a far better situation than being locked up.

    1. Sure. That’s the assumption we’d all make, given how nice a guy he seems to be.

    2. This is just one more anti responsibility or consequences article masquerading as criminal justice reform. Sorry to interrupt the daydreams of your marxist utopia but in the real world there are consequences for illegal action. If you could point me to where this was beyond the pale for judicial options available, not just unseemly, or where this was abused by the judge or the provider (not being fully free until you’ve paid the related fines doesn’t quite count) that would be great.

      Conflicts of interest need to be disclosed so they can be monitored but are not abuse in and of themselves and at the end of the day accountability won out as he’s off the bench.

      1. Corruption turns otherwise-valid decisions into dubious ones.

        It’s OK to make criminals on probation pay for their own monitoring.

        It’s not OK to wet one’s own beak in the process as allegedly happened in these cases.

        Just like there’s nothing *intrinsically* wrong with the government contracting with private companies, the problem is when you steer money to people who share the profits with you personally. Like allegedly happened here.

        If the process is tainted by self-dealing we can’t have confidence in the outcome.

        1. And yet there is no context here to say anything at all. Was there a level of self dealing, sure. Was it material or out of line with the norm…who can tell from this shit article.

          Not sure what your point is beyond those I stated from the opposite side. Could it be, yes; is it…couldn’t tell.

          I guess it would be better to toss them in jail until trial to satisfy you but we both know that wouldn’t work for obvious reasons.

          1. Like I say,

            “It’s OK to make criminals on probation pay for their own monitoring.

            “It’s not OK to wet one’s own beak in the process as allegedly happened in these cases.”

            In a famous 1920s case, mayors weren’t able to preside in traffic court if their city shared in the fines. This isn’t the same as saying speeding and reckless driving are OK.

            Duh.

            1. Here we go –

              “[I]t certainly violates the Fourteenth Amendment and deprives a defendant in a criminal case of due process of law to subject his liberty or property to the judgment of a court, the judge of which has a direct, personal, substantial pecuniary interest in reaching a conclusion against him in his case.”

              https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/273/510

              (It was a prohibition not speeding case)

    3. Being locked up for victimless possession of what the Bill of Rights is written on is a privilege. Heck, the honkies oughtta be chargin’ them rent AND collecting taxes for filling the same cells.

    4. $300 a month expense that was coerced says fuck no.

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  6. How surprising that a looter Kleptocracy judge would wield the power of coercion for the boodling benefit of the political machine that funded his election campaign! I guess he seen his chances and took ’em.

    1. If you couldn’t use the words looter, kleptocracy, spoiler, mystical, bigot, infiltrator, amd a few others you wouldn’t know how to say anything.

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  9. Why do we have absolute immunity again? Corrupt acts like those alleged here should leave the judge liable, regardless of whether he’s a judge.

  10. Why not name the Federal Judge, who was Carl J. Barbier.

  11. I admit I didn’t read the article, and I’m not going to either. The headline of the article was phrased as click-bait, so I just came here to tell Reason how disappointed I am that they aren’t bothering to write real headlines anymore.

  12. Seems like Louisiana is mightily striving to be the most corrupt state in the nation. They’ve got stiff competition but it’s going to be a close call.

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