published Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Former Dalton judge requests hearing for probationers falsely charged

DALTON, Ga. — A former city judge wants a court hearing to clear the records for more than 1,800 people charged with a probation violation that doesn’t exist in state or current city law.

Jerry Moncus, who was fired from Dalton Municipal Court in September, says his predecessor, Jim Wilbanks, sentenced more than 1,800 people for contempt of probation between 2000 and 2004.

Contempt of probation is not in the Georgia code or in the latest Dalton city code. When someone violates the terms of probation, the court must issue a hearing for revocation of probation, but a new charge isn’t issued, state law shows.

“This is not right. It’s just plain not right,” Moncus said.

The probationers, who originally were sentenced for misdemeanors such as DUI, traffic and parking tickets, have a right to have their records cleared of the false charge, he said.

Wilbanks previously served on the bench from 2000 to 2005 before he was reappointed when Moncus was fired. The allegations against him aren’t “factual,” Wilbanks said Tuesday, but he declined further comment, saying the matter is subject to a hearing.

Moncus filed for a hearing on March 3, but said he hasn’t received a set date from the court. Since Wilbanks is the current judge, he would rule on Moncus’ claim unless he recuses himself.

Documents obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press show 1,856 people were charged with contempt of probation from 2000 to 2004, and most of the tickets were issued by two former court officers appointed from the Dalton Police Department to oversee the court.

Moncus’ request for a hearing, which also asks that no files related to the charges be destroyed, accuses the court of sentencing some of the probation violators to jail for longer than the 12-month limit allowed by law.

The court officers no longer worked for the police department once they were appointed to the court, police department spokesman Bruce Frazier said. Neither officer works for the courts anymore.

City clerk officials said the latest city code doesn’t include such a contempt of probation charge, but the code was rewritten in 2001. Officials requested a formal Freedom of Information request before they’d search through the older city code to see if the charge was ever in city laws.

During the time the probation charges were being issued, Alternative Probation Services, a private company based in Dalton, was providing probation services for the city. Company owner Rick Eaton declined to comment Tuesday, saying he said he hadn’t seen a copy of the court document.

The charges stopped being issued when former court administrator David Hamil began to run the city probation service in 2005 and said he couldn’t find a city ordinance to support the contempt of probation charges.

Hamil was forced to resign from his position the same week Moncus was fired. City officials said the two were fired because of a possible link between them and LST Recovery Group, which collected forfeited bail bonds on behalf of the city.

Moncus said the firings came because he and Hamil opposed a city/Whitfield County courts merger that Dalton officials support.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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McRand said...

Apparently this judge didn't know the law. Well, like they say, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse". Throw him off the bench. It works both ways doesn't it?

March 25, 2011 at 5:39 a.m.
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