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Pine Bluff appeals judgment over jail fees

by Eplunus Colvin | June 4, 2023 at 4:17 a.m.
FILE - Jefferson County jail (Pine Bluff Commercial/Byron Tate)

The city of Pine Bluff has filed an appeal against a circuit court summary judgment in favor of Jefferson County regarding a dispute about the city's obligation to pay "jail fees," under a 2006 Release and Settlement Agreement.

The appeal was filed by city attorney Althea Scott on May 25th against Judge David N. Laser's order for the city to pay $402,704 to Jefferson County after losing a lawsuit filed against the county about detainee bed space at the county jail.

In a previous lawsuit between the city and the county, a settlement agreement was reached between the two pertaining to city inmates held in the W.C. "Dub" Brassell Adult Detention Center.

Pine Bluff paid about $960,900 from March 2006 through December 2008 to the county for a minimum of 75 jail beds.

The city also had first priority on an additional 30 beds.

The agreement said that once the new county jail was opened, the city would have the use of 75 beds and would only be charged a daily fee if more beds than allotted to the city were used.

In addition to paying almost $1 million, the city supported the county's proposed tax to pay for the new jail and its operation and said a memorandum of understanding in support of the half-percent jail tax between the county and the city from County Judge Jack Jones set out that 120 beds would be shared by the city and other municipalities with Pine Bluff allotted 90 beds.

The 400 beds would create more free jail beds, with the agreement saying that the usage of the beds from the pool of available beds would be at no cost to the city.

In December 2020, the Jefferson County Quorum Court voted to authorize the county to impose fees for the use of jail facilities and services of $30 per day for each inmate received from any city.

The lawsuit was filed by the city stating the ordinance neglects to mention the existing settlement agreement between the parties.

According to the summary judgment, the city has been ordered to begin paying the monthly invoices submitted by the Jefferson County jail for bed space for city detainees and pay pending invoices in the amount of $402,704.00, which accrued from January 2021 to March 2023.

The judgment states Jefferson County Quorum Court passed Ordinance No. 2020-154 on Dec. 14, 2020, due to the continued failure of Pine Bluff to pay for the incarceration of city prisoners.

"The settlement agreement is clear that the money paid by Pine Bluff is for arrearages and that the 1993 contract would cease at year-end 2008, at which time Pine Bluff and Jefferson County would renegotiate the jail fees going forward," read the judgment. "They never did."

Scott said after the judgment the court advised both parties to work together to create an amicable payment arrangement for the past-due balance. According to Scott, since the city has already adopted the 2023 budget, the mayor and finance director would work together to structure a feasible payment plan to present to the Ways and Means committee, then submit it to the full council for final approval.

Now that an appeal has been filed, the notice reads the plaintiff abandons any pending but unresolved claims.

County Judge Gerald Robinson said he was disappointed when he found out an appeal was filed. "While I understand the appeal process, I am disappointed in the lack of communication," said Robinson.

Robinson said Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington called him to make payment arrangements with no mention of an appeal.

"She called and asked if she could pay half now and the other half in November," said Robinson. "I told her yes and to put it into writing so I can have the county attorney look at it, but the next thing I know I get a call from the attorney saying an appeal was made."

Robinson said he wished he would have known from the mayor that there would be an appeal, stating, "The appeal came after the payment plan was verbally agreed upon."

Washington said she was not aware that an appeal was going to be filed by the city attorney and believes it is just part of the procedure.

"We're dedicated to resolving this issue without further litigation. After we got the first notice of the settlement and that the judge had ruled in favor of the county it was my goal to get it settled but we haven't gotten everything drafted," said Washington. "Our goal is to settle this as soon as possible. We're not trying to fight this any further."

Print Headline: PB appeals judgment over jail fees


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