Albany, Ga. The Dougherty County Judicial System, including the superior court judges, magistrate judges, state court judge, district attorney's office and sheriff's office, are violating the constitutional rights of criminal defendants by failing to promptly set bonds, prohibiting them from attending bond hearings, and restricting the liberty of defendants released on bonds by placing undue conditions on bond that violate their constitutional rights, a class-action lawsuit filed this week contends.
The lawsuit, filed by local attorney Jim Finklestein on behalf of Steven Gregory, is seeking for an order from Superior Court ordering the magistrates and state court judge stop what he contends is an illegal practice of barring defendants from attending their own bond hearings, promptly schedule bond and committal hearings and put an end to a practice that he says strips defendants of their constitutional rights while out on bond.
The lawsuit also seeks to give the suit class-action status, to ensure the immediate release from custody and any conditions of bond until the suit can be heard and to award financial damages to Gregory for false imprisonment and wrongful arrest by two county police officers.
Gregory also contends that District Attorney Greg Edwards blocks attempts by defense attorneys from interviewing victims of crimes by instructing them not to speak to defense counsel even when they may have knowledge or evidence that would exonerate a defendant.
Edwards denied Thursday that his office attempts to block lawyers from talking to victims saying that if the victims of crime don't want to speak to other lawyers that's their choice.
"Just as a defendant has the right not to speak to me as a prosecutor, so does the victim not to speak to any other lawyer," Edwards said. "If they choose not to speak to anyone, that's their own prerogative."
According to court documents, Gregory was charged with aggravated stalking by the Dougherty County Police Department when he allegedly violated special conditions of the bond he was granted by the magistrate court when he "made derogatory statements" to Bobbie Leigh Roberts.
Finklestein contends in court documents that Gregory was jailed for 40 days on the charge and was twice denied bond by Magistrate Judges Robert Revell and Baxter Howell and was only released on a $3,000 bond following a committal hearing in which Gregory was further restricted. This time, Superior Court Judge Denise Marshall ordered Gregory to stay away from "stores and businesses on the eastern part of Dougherty County, including Kitty's Flea Market where plaintiff's sole business and livelihood was located prior to his arrest."
Finklestein contends that the judges overstepped their legal authority by imposing the bond restrictions and then waiting 52 days before scheduling a committal hearing, which was subsequently cancelled, to determine whether those conditions could be removed.
Finklestein further contends that the magistrate judges are illegally quashing subpoenas filed by defendants during bond hearings that could offer evidence that would exonerate them.
He points to a 2012 case where Magistrate Judge Victoria Darrisaw granted the district attorney's office motion to quash a subpoena for a video recording of a traffic chase and stop in which the defendant believed proved their innocence. Darrisaw then remanded the defendant to jail without bond based on the testimony of an Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit officer.
Later, in superior court, Judge Stephen Goss denied the state's identical motion to quash the subpoena, watched the video and then dismissed the drug charges.