The Associated Press State & Local Wire
DATELINE: HARPERSVILLE Ala.
Investigators have seized police and municipal court records from Harpersville City Hall as part of a probe that comes after a judge described the local municipal court as a “debtors prison” “and a “judicially sanctioned extortion racket.”
Authorities with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and the office of the state Attorney General had a warrant Thursday to seize written and electronic records from the Harpersville Municipal Court and the police department, the sheriff’s office told The Birmingham News. Investigators did not offer more details about the probe.
The city’s court system has recently come under legal scrutiny. On Thursday, Shelby County Judge Hub Harrington ordered the city and a private probation company, Judicial Correction Service, to retain records related to the city’s municipal court and police department.
The order came as part of a 2010 lawsuit that alleged the Harpersville Municipal Court violated the legal rights of defendants.
In a ruling this summer, Harrington said he found evidence that the city turned defendants over to the private company when they could not immediately pay court-imposed fines and fees. Many defendants were locked up, including some on false failure-to-appear complaints, leading to more fines and debt, the judge said.
“Most distressing is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law,” Harrington wrote. “Disgraceful.”
Harrington has taken control of all Harpersville cases involving people jailed for failing to pay court fines and fees. He has ordered the mayor and city council to attend an Aug. 20 hearing in the case.
Harpersville officials did not return messages seeking comment.
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