Judge: Harpersville can re-open municipal court (updated)

Published 5:17 pm Thursday, September 8, 2016


Staff Writer

HARPERSVILLE – After about four years, Harpersville’s municipal court could soon re-open.

Shelby County Circuit Judge William H. Bostick III, in an order dated Aug. 31, said Harpersville could re-establish its municipal court subject to several conditions.

Harpersville Mayor Theoangelo Perkins said town officials had been expecting the order.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Perkins said. “It’s been a process, but I think we’ll be good from here on out.”

The conditions given for the re-opening of the municipal court include that Morris L. Shaw, former counsel for the town and the town’s recently-appointed municipal court judge, will enter a standing order of the municipal court adopting an approved set of policies and procedures, and all of the town’s officers, employees and agents must comply with the policies and procedures.

Also, the town must provide notice to the Circuit Court and to the plaintiff’s counsel in Shaw is no longer the municipal court judge, or if the policies and procedures are altered in any material aspect within two years of the order.

Harpersville also must agree not to hire, contract with, or otherwise use any private probation company throughout the duration of the case.

According to the order, Shaw has represented that, in his capacity as the town’s municipal court judge, he will ensure that:

•Court magistrates and prosecutors are properly trained.

•The schedule of payments form, which is included in the policies and procedures, is posted in a conspicuous location outside of the municipal courtroom and, if available, on the municipal court’s website.

•The municipal court will keep organized records in accordance with Alabama law.

•The municipal court will, for the duration of the pending litigation, maintain a list of detainees incarcerated over 72 hours, which shall be made available to plaintiff’s counsel upon reasonable notice.

Perkins said the last hurdle for re-opening the municipal court would be hiring a magistrate. The position has been posted.

A magistrate had been working for the town, even before the court had been re-established. Perkins said the magistrate completed necessary paperwork that will allow the court to be re-opened quickly, before moving on to another job.

Harpersville’s Town Council unanimously voted to establish a municipal court following a public hearing during an Oct. 5, 2015, council meeting.

The town’s municipal court was abolished in 2012 following a lawsuit brought against the town by four former inmates claiming civil rights violations and egregious bond amounts and fines.

After reviewing deposition testimony, retired Shelby County Circuit Judge Hub Harrington described the municipal court as “a debtors prison” and a “judicially sanctioned extortion racket,” in a July 11, 2012, order.

Since that time, Harpersville has operated without a municipal court, placing additional strain on the city’s police force and leaving it without a means to enforce municipal ordinances, such as measures in place to prevent public nuisances like derelict properties.

Without a municipal court, Harpersville police officers must travel to Columbiana to swear tickets. Harpersville Police Chief Jimmy Macon estimated each officer travels to the county seat around 10 times per month, leaving the town’s relatively small police force with one less officer in the field.