More than 1,000 people jailed in the past six years in Spokane County, Wash. for failing to pay court-ordered fines stand to benefit from a class-action lawsuit settlement valued at $350,000.
The settlement applies to anyone booked into the local jail between 2008 and 2014 for what the courts referred to as unpaid legal financial obligations - including fees, fines and court-ordered restitution.
Betty Rucker had sued the county on behalf of people jailed for such delinquencies in the six-year period. Rucker was booked into the jail several times between 2006 and 2013 for failing to pay restitution from a 2000 forgery case, according to her complaint. Lawyers argued that Rucker was repeatedly denied her right to appear before a judge and that the county's practice of having jail employees and not legally licensed professionals advise inmates of their rights denied her due process.
The county agreed to the settlement without admitting guilt.
Breean Beggs, a candidate for Spokane County prosecutor, helped represent Rucker. Beggs said county policies were changed after the lawsuit was filed in 2012. The number of people jailed each day for failing to pay court-ordered fines dropped from 30 inmates to five, freeing beds for other offenders and potentially saving the county millions of dollars, Beggs said.
Mike Patterson, an attorney for Spokane County, said policy changes stemming from the lawsuit will keep the county from future liability and ensure offenders are treated fairly. Patterson said the settlement includes $190,000 for approximately 800 offenders other than Rucker. The county will use $25,000 of the settlement for a job training program eligible to more than 1,000 offenders. An estimated $135,000 will go to Rucker and her attorneys.
The settlement will cost the county the full $350,000 if the 800 or so people eligible for reimbursement agree to the deal. Terms of the settlement require that all money paid to the offenders first go to repaying fines.