District judges, Jonesboro, other cities in and Craighead County itself are the defendants
Network alleges judges Fowler, Boling unlawfully forgave fees they were owed
JONESBORO, Ark. – A lawsuit filed by the Justice Network is claiming the amnesty program instituted by two newly elected district judges in Craighead County is a violation of civil rights and state law.
They want a higher court to stop the program and prevent the judges from relieving defendants of their legal obligation to the network, a for-profit probation service provider.
District Judges David Boling and Tommy Fowler are both defendants in the complaint filed on June 30, 2017 in the United States Eastern District of Arkansas, Jonesboro Division. Along with Bay, Bono, Brookland, Caraway, Cash, Egypt, Jonesboro, Lake City, Monette and Craighead County, the judges are defendants to a civil action by The Justice Network, Inc., which was the probation services provider for Craighead County for over 20 years – until 2017. Both Boling and Fowler won elections in 2016 for district judge and no small part of their respective victories was a mutual position against the use of the Justice Network for probation services, due to it being a for-profit business besieged by complaints and negative experiences.
Legally, there’s not much the Justice Network can do about being removed as the provider for those services – but they’re not going down without a fight. The Tennessee-based network is hoping they can recover fees lost from forgiveness of debts for those who were already in the system before the new judges took over.
In 2016, Boling and Fowler implemented an “Amnesty Program,” forgiving fees owed by probation clients. The Justice Network’s lawsuit claims Fowler and Boling “unilaterally decreed that The Justice Network is not entitled to fees owed under the contracts between each probation client,” and the network. Specifically, the suit seems to target a $35 monthly fee for probation services as each individual probation client agreed to in a contract with the network. Additional mention of a $15 monthly fee for supervision of public service work is also mentioned.
The probation services provider said under the judges’ “interference,” the company suffered significant economic loss and will continue to in the future. Most notably, all 12 full-time Craighead County employees of The Justice Network were fired.
The Justice Network is asking for a judgment finding the two judges were out-of-line to annul fees owed to the company by those in the system. The civil suit claims over $75,000 in damages were caused. They’re also asking for injunctive relief from what they call a violation of Article 1, Section 10 of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, along with several alleged violations of the Arkansas Constitution.
The civil suit demands a jury trial.
In the background section of the claim, significant attention is given to the judicial elections in Craighead County during early 2016. Boling and Fowler both gave numerous interviews to local media outlets, mostly The Jonesboro Sun, slamming the use of the for-profit Justice Network.
The claim cites a litany of quotes from both candidates about the matter. Boling stated on Feb. 7, 2016 he did “not support the privatization of probation services …. the privatization of it in any aspect leads to the questionability of credibility and just a distrust.”
Once Boling was appointed to fill late-district judge Curt Huckaby’s seat in July, 2016, he began some of the philosophical changes he had laid out in his campaign. As he began to forgive and purge debt for those who had been unable to escape the system, some fees The Justice Network claims it was owed were also removed.
“A portion of the “purged” debt was fees which were owed by the defendant to The Justice Network, pursuant to a contract signed by that defendant and The Justice Network,” claims the lawsuit.
NEA Report reached out to the district judges but they were unable to comment, being named specifically as defendants in the suit. The claim does seem to intently target the two judges for their actions.
“Defendants Boling and Fowler have inappropriately used their office and political influence to impose and establish a policy in the City Courts located throughout Craighead County which interferes with the contractual relationship that exists between The Justice Network and Justice Network’s probation clients,” says the claim.
The Justice Network is incorporated as Community Corrections Corporation (CCC) with its principal office located at 2430 Poplar Avenue, 3ro Floor, Memphis, Tennessee 38112. The network was was incorporated in 1990, the lawsuit says. In December, 1997, The Justice Network bought controlling interest in CCC.
By Stan Morris | NEA Report
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