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The Dalton, Ga., public defender filed a motion Thursday that claims the city court acted illegally by not holding a hearing for several offenders who violated their probation and were jailed.

At least seven inmates who were arrested for violating their probation have been held in jail for as long as three weeks without a preliminary hearing, said Josh Smith, public defender for the Dalton Municipal Court.

"You can't leave someone in jail that long [without a hearing]," he said.

The inmates should be read their charges and the city judge should hear their case within 72 hours of an arrest, he said.

The motion, filed in City Court, requests that a hearing be held for those probationers who have been denied one and that their cases be dismissed altogether, Smith said.

City Judge Jim Wilbanks was out of the office Friday and did not return calls seeking comment. But Dalton Clerk of Court Angie Sackett said the motion was received, but an amended motion needed to be filed, listing the probationers' names.

"We don't know who he's filing it on," she said.

City Court is held every Wednesday, and probation revocations are heard at the end of the day, Sackett said. For several weeks during the holidays, court wasn't held, she said.

Court resumed this Wednesday, but the courthouse was packed with new cases and probation cases couldn't be heard, she said.

Smith said he planned to file an amended motion listing the probationers once he met with the them at the jail on Monday.

Smith visited with one inmate on Friday and plans to visit the rest on Monday to ask if he can represent them. Some of the probationers have a bond hearing set, but it isn't until March, he said.

Mayor David Pennington said he wasn't aware of any violation of the law, but said he now plans to look into the issue.

Wilbanks was appointed city judge in September after officials fired former judge Jerry Moncus and forced court administrator David Hamil to resign.

Moncus said the controversy arose after he tried to enforce the law requiring bonding companies to pay bonds that are owed to the court when a defendant fails to appear.

Smith was also involved with collecting past due bond fees for the city court. He said Hamil asked him in 2009 to contract with the city and start LST Recovery Group to collect those bonds.

Dalton officials ended their relationship with LST in September, and the mayor said there could have been a conflict of interest with the two companies.

Moncus said he is not connected to LST but does own the spinoff collection agency LMST Recovery Group Inc. LMST doesn't do business with Dalton.


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