Four Doraville-area Georgians along with the Institute for Justice will hold a press conference to announce the filing of a federal lawsuit against the city of Doraville for its heavy reliance on fines, fees and forfeitures to fund the city on Thursday, May 24.
It started two years ago when Doraville homeowner Hilda Brucker got a call from a flustered clerk at the city court demanding that she drop everything she was doing and come in. When she got there, Hilda was confronted by a city judge and prosecutor armed with photos of her driveway, arguing that its cracks violated Doraville’s city code. Hilda protested that this was the first she’d heard about it, and that she’d never even received so much as a “fix-it ticket.” The prosecutor wasn’t having it, and the judge proceeded to impose a fine and sentenced her to six months of probation. Hilda walked out of court a convicted criminal for having a cracked driveway.
Hilda was the victim of Doraville’s revenue-reliant municipal justice system. And, unfortunately, her experience is troublingly commonplace. Hilda, along with three other Georgians who fell victim to Doraville’s fine-dependent officials, are fighting back. They partnered with the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm, to sue the city of Doraville and end its reliance on ticket revenue to balance its city budget.
“In American courtrooms, the judge and prosecutor you face should be neutral public servants,” says IJ attorney Josh House, who represents the Plaintiffs in the case. “But in Doraville, the city’s municipal court and law enforcement are tasked with finding residents and passers-through guilty of crimes in order to generate revenue. That violates fundamental principles of due process.”
Each year, Doraville, Georgia. budgets between 17 and 30 percent of its overall anticipated revenue to come from fines and fees issued by its police officers and code inspectors. A 2015 Doraville newsletter even bragged that “averaging nearly 15,000 cases and bringing in over $3M annually,” Doraville’s court system “contributes heavily to the city’s bottom line.” Instead of raising taxes or cutting spending, Doraville balances the budget through turning more and more people into convicted criminals.