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On reading Frank Cagle’s column about court costs last week [“No Controlling Authority,” Frank Talk, April 21, 2011], a couple of comments stood out, including this one: “Every week, miscreants are hauled before Sessions Court judges and they are levied fines and court costs.” And there was this one: “Granted, many of these defendants do not have jobs or real assets, but they do find the money to pay lawyers, bail bondsmen, and cell phone bills for the phone to use to call their lawyers and bail bondsmen.”
I am really curious about Cagle’s assumptions and where they come from. I respect the fact that this was an opinion and that in today’s journalism world, all opinion, no matter how contrived and mean-spirited, is sacred. So I won’t presume to suggest that anybody should censor Cagle’s uncharitable language, which I admittedly assume to be inspired by the bullies and meatheads of talk radio he sounds like when he’s talking about the poor.
I’ve been representing poor people charged with crimes for over 20 years. Please, hold your false applause: You don’t get why, and I know you don’t get why. It’s because you’ve never walked a mile in a “miscreant’s” shoes. You weren’t born in poverty, traded from one foster parent to another, lucky to get a special-ed diploma if you hadn’t already been absorbed into the culture of addiction and abuse that compensates for the absence of smug, suburban moral correctness about everything, for the blessed platitudes echoing down from megachurch pulpits that the truly righteous are rewarded in this life with Humvees and jet skis. You know decent people worked really hard to be born to the right parents and sent to the right schools zoned for the whitest and brightest models of consumption and assumption. You are a Decent Person, and if you ever get caught doing something wrong, it will be because you used poor judgment, not because you are a Miscreant.
With regard to Cagle’s other assumptions about why the miscreants don’t pay their costs and how decent citizens can force them to come up with money they don’t have—hard to believe in these promising economic times—I admit it’s so easy to pick on poor people who have committed atrocities that get them placed on misdemeanor probation. Throwing them all in jail for nonpayment would, however, exacerbate the costs problem to a devastating degree, despite whatever good ol’ boy in the next county told Cagle about roundin’ ’em up and a threatenin’ ’em with jail. It might work there, but it hasn’t worked here: I’m a witness. And as a witness I can also testify that the late Judge Jarvis was wrong about the reasons for overcrowding: It had nothing to do with “continuances,” which in Sessions Court are never about delaying outcomes; they are about getting cases concluded in Sessions Court rather than sending them on to Criminal Court, which would actually cause more delay and more burdensome cost.
Let the people who know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about deal with these problems, Mr. Cagle. If your big, bright idea for fixing the budget is to go after the poor and get everything they have, boy, are we ever in trouble.
Julia Auer Gautreau