By Wes Wolfe | The Brunswick News | July 3, 2019
The virtual gavel came down in the lawsuit between the American Civil Liberties Union and Glynn County, as U.S. District Judge Stan Baker entered in judgment of the case Tuesday. Lawyers from the ACLU of Georgia, ACLU Foundation and local attorney James Yancey Jr. represented Margery Freida Mock and Scott Ogden Jr. in the case, an action that sought to reform Glynn County’s cash bond system.
The plaintiffs and the defense filed a joint stipulation of dismissal with the federal court June 18, coming a full month after Glynn County commissioners voted May 16 to settle the matter.
Commissioner Bob Coleman, in making the motion at that meeting, said, “I motion the board of commissioners approve the settlement agreement and release of claims in Mock v. Glynn County … which includes a payment of $62,500 and affirmative policy changes to the standing bail order issued by the state court.”
Altogether, defendants in the case were Glynn County itself, Sheriff Neal Jump, then-Chief Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood and then-State Court Public Defender Reid Zeh.
Statements made in an ACLU blog post in 2018 related to this case, regarding Zeh’s handing of a state court defendant — and later reported on by The News — led to a defamation lawsuit in Glynn County Superior Court against the ACLU and the Brunswick News Publishing Company. The court dismissed the allegations against Brunswick News Publishing, but the complaint against the ACLU was allowed to continue.
According to the ACLU of Georgia statement on the settlement, the county agreed to bail hearings held at least four times a week with none more than 48 hours apart, “prompt judicial evaluations of bail amounts using an improved financial hardship/indigency affidavit and considering what amount of money the person who is arrested is ‘currently able to pay,’” improved notice to arrestees of the bail process and contact information for the public defender, along with a term of independent monitoring to make sure these changes go into place.
Atwood, now head of the state Department of Administrative Services, said in a statement that the county’s been committed to a bail determination process that follows state and federal law.
“Consistent with recent federal decisions and a rewrite of the Georgia bond statute in 2018, we began the process of improving our bail determination system in misdemeanor cases,” Atwood said. “We look forward to continuing our practice of properly evaluating the financial circumstances of misdemeanor arrestees in setting bond.”
Andrea Woods, the ACLU lead attorney in the case, said the settlement improves the ability of people accused of misdemeanor crimes to avoid serious life disruptions.
“These measures will help ensure that people’s long-term freedom does not rest on their ability to pay a given bail amount or hire private attorneys,” Woods said in a statement. “While money bail requirements have been normalized in much of Georgia and the country, even a day or two in jail causes serious harm to those unable to afford a cash bail for their freedom.”