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Ardmore Judge’s Attempt to Turn Jail Into Debtors’ Prison Thwarted

3:15 PM EDT on September 24, 2019

In this week's edition of "The Oklahoma Standard," we shine a Glamour Shots spotlight on Reese Witherspoon fan girl turned Ardmore Municipal Court Judge Julie Austin.

Last week, Judge Julie made the local news circuit when accusations surfaced that she was attempting to turn the local jail into some sort of debtors' prison.

Via The Ardmoreite:

The Ardmore Municipal Court Judge has recently come under fire for an alleged practice creating what has been referred to as a debtors prison.

Local criminal defense attorney Jason May said he allegedly witnessed Municipal Court Judge Julie Austin engage in the unconstitutional practice while sitting in on a municipal court hearing Tuesday, Sept. 3.

“I noticed that Judge Austin was essentially giving people fines and then telling them that they had to pay them before they could be released from jail — which you cannot do,” May said. “You’re required by law to give people a payment plan and let them out so that they can make their payments.”

Ardmore City Manager J.D. Spohn, who oversees the municipal court, said he was not aware of any violations and deferred any further comment to Judge Austin. “I am not aware of our Judge violating any laws and I don’t believe that she would,” Spohn said in a text message.

Wow. Those are pretty strong accusations! If only there was a video of the judge literally telling people they had to pay a fine to get released from jail. That would be all the evidence we need!

Oh wait, there is. Check it out:

Geeze, I hope nobody shows that video to the The Oklahoma Sheriffs' Association. They'll probably hand Judge Julie a citation and name her the 2019 Oklahoma Judge of the Year!

After watching the video, and getting threats of legal action from constitutional watchdog dog groups, Judge Julie and the city have implemented changes...

Following allegations regarding unconstitutional practice within the Ardmore Municipal Court, officials say steps are being taken to improve the process...

Ardmore City Manager J.D. Spohn released a press release on Friday, Sept. 20 addressing the situation. Spohn oversees the municipal court and appointed Austin as judge last year.

“Once the City became aware of possible issues, it directed legal counsel to conduct an appropriate inquiry. The City has been advised that the particular cases and circumstances that formed the basis of Mr. May’s comments were somewhat unusual and not the prevailing practice of the Municipal Court,” Spohn wrote.

I watched the video several times. Maybe I missed a circus clown juggling on a unicycle, but everything seemed pretty normal and standard.

However, Spohn stated that the City “takes all concerns seriously and initiated steps to determine if there were areas where the process could be improved”.

Based on the results of the inquiry, Spohn stated that new procedures and forms designed to assist the municipal judge in determining whether a person is able to pay fines and/or costs have been implemented, effective Sept. 20.

During a municipal court hearing on the morning of Sept. 20, Judge Austin did allow individuals to set up payment plans, contrary to her former proceedings.

Sure, it may be concerning that we have to remind municipal judges about the rights vested to people in the constitution, but I'm glad the issue is solved. Now instead of keeping people in jail who can't afford to pay, maybe she can do the right thing and let them perform forced, unpaid labor in chicken processing plants.

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