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The Barred Business Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta, has filed a lawsuit against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Rommys Beltran Investigators report that the suit, aligned as corruption, accuses Willis of not notifying a judge when individuals are detained in jail on felony charges for over 45 days without an indictment. According to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last year, at one point, over a third of the inmates at Fulton County Jail were in this situation. Julian Clark, an ACLU lawyer, along with the ACLU of Georgia, is representing the nonprofit in the legal action. Clark discussed the matter with Peter Biello of GPB.

TRANSCRIPT:

Peter Biello: So your study found last year that hundreds of people are waiting in jail without an indictment. When you asked Fulton County why these people were waiting so long, what did they say?

Julian Clark: So, we specifically sent in records requests that asked for information about it, but we never asked directly any officials in the county why. Why people are being held.

Peter Biello: What did they say in response to that information request?

Julian Clark: So we specifically requested whether they were complying with a court rule which is subject of the lawsuit. And they responded that they have no information that is relevant to our request, which suggests to us that they are not in compliance with that rule.

Peter Biello: Otherwise, they would have had something to show you.

Julian Clark: Exactly.

Peter Biello: OK. So why is it important for a judge to know when an individual is kept in jail for that amount of time without an indictment?

Julian Clark: The reason why it’s essential to know is that Fulton County Jail now, and for a long time, has been experiencing overcrowding. There’s terrible conditions in the jail. People have died. Dozens of people have died over the last couple of years. And right now, given those conditions, if there’s anyone that’s in the jail that hasn’t been convicted or the judge has an opportunity to expedite their case process, it’s essential that the judge be aware of that.

Peter Biello: Is this unique to Fulton County or is this going on elsewhere in Georgia?

Julian Clark: So our investigation was primarily focused on Fulton County. But our understanding is that this is likely something that’s happening all over the state.

Peter Biello: It’s well-known that throughout the state, there is a shortage of public defenders,and there aren’t enough judges to quickly handle all the cases that are presented to them. So even if the judges in Fulton County were informed, what could they — what could the system possibly do after that point, given the state’s limited resources?

Julian Clark: The chief judge, as the the head court administrator, has the authority to bring in other judges, whether retired or judges who are in other jurisdictions, to help expedite the court’s docket. So that’s one of the things that we would hope the court does with this information, is that they use their discretionary funds and whatever, whatever resources they have available to them to help expedite these cases.

Peter Biello: The Fulton County Jail is a crowded, dangerous place, as you mentioned at the outset. There have been several deaths in a short amount of time at the Fulton County Jail. Do you think compliance with this law would help with the jail’s overcrowding? And if so, how?

Julian Clark: Yes, absolutely. Another thing that could be done is that the judges in Fulton County could start evaluating people’s ability to pay. So if, if they’re being charged with a misdemeanor or even some felonies, judges are required to evaluate whether someone can make a certain bail determination. And right now, that’s not happening. So our hope is that compliance with this rule will bring greater awareness and hopefully spark some change.

Peter Biello: Julian Clark, an attorney for the ACLU, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Julian Clark: Thank you Peter.

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