WHITE COUNTY, Ark. — An illegal, modern-day debtors’ prison, that’s what a lawsuit claims a district court judge is running in White County.
According to the lawsuit filed Thursday, Judge Mark Derrick places excessive fines on misdemeanor charges, without evaluating a person’s ability to pay. The lawsuit also claims Judge Derrick will issue an arrest warrant and suspend a person’s license when they don’t pay.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six White County residents, who say they have been jailed or punished for being unable to pay court-ordered fines.
“We barely get by to make ends meet,” said Dazarious Braggs, who is one of the six named in the lawsuit. “If you miss a fine payment then you get a warrant put out for you. Then when you get arrested, waiting to go to court again, you get another fine put on top of you for that.”
The 23-year-old says his problems started with a traffic charge he couldn’t afford to pay off. He said from there it has been a cycle of jail time and having his license suspended because he can’t afford the nearly $3,000 in court fees he owes. Braggs works 6 days a week at a tire shop in Searcy, bringing in the sole income to raise his two toddlers.
“Every time you miss a payment, you go to jail. You get out and you get another fine added on top of that for a failure to pay fines,” Braggs explained.
Judge Derrick’s Beebe chambers sat empty Friday, but the court building has several signs posted inside detailing his fee policies.
The lawsuit seeks declaratory judgment, meaning no damages will be awarded and the only action the court can take is declaring rights of those involved.
KARK 4 called Judge Derrick’s office, but was told all questions should be directed to Beebe City Attorney Scott Bles. Calls to Bles’ office have not been returned.