NEW ORLEANS (WGNO)— Arguments were underway in federal court on Tuesday alleging a former Orleans Parish criminal court judge misused his power when it came to a class action lawsuit ordering pretrial criminal defendants to wear ankle monitors.
The lawsuit went before a panel of judges with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, arguing that Judge Paul A. Bonin’s close ties to ETOH Monitoring, LLC violated the defendants’ rights to neutral adjudication. That is – a fair and unbiased ruling.
The hearing stems from Bonin’s September 2021 ruling that ordered defendants to wear the ankle monitors provided by ETOH, which is owned by one of his former law partners of 14 years. Later in 2021, a federal judge dismissed the case. Now, the plaintiffs are arguing that the ties between the judge and the monitoring company stripped those awaiting trial of their due process rights.
It was further alleged that ETOH executives contributed more than $9,000 to Bonin’s election campaigns which included an unpaid loan. According to the lawsuit, Bonin then ordered pretrial defendants to ankle monitoring – something that financially benefited ETOH. The attorneys for the people who then had to wear the devices want the appeals court to revive the lawsuit.
One representative in the case, Institute of Justice Senior Attorney Bill Maurer, said in part Tuesday, “…No private company’s profit incentive should be able to influence a court’s proceedings.”
Ankle monitors have been making headlines for more than a year now. As a device that is supposed to help keep tabs on a person and help protect the public, some say that the devices, the companies operating them, and the judges mandating them are falling short of their jobs.
“The court below made a mistake,” added Jaba Tsitsuashvili, another attorney in the case. “It essentially held that when judges and for-profit companies operate for those companies’ benefits rather than in the interest of justice, there’s nothing wrong with that. And we are confident that the court of appeals will understand that is wrong and it is unconstitutional.”
Following Tuesday’s arguments, the judges overseeing the hearing will then make a decision on whether to send the case back to criminal court. A ruling should be made sometime next week.