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June 26 - ACLU Accuses Public Defender in Glynn County Of Extorting $2,500 From 75-Year Old Woman For Son’s Defense

Category: Law

Savannah Business Journal Staff Report

June 26, 2018 - The ACLU of Georgia and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a motion to amend the complaint in their federal class action lawsuit against Glynn County, Glynn County Sheriff E. Neal Jump, Glynn County Chief Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood, and B. Reid Zeh, III, seeking an immediate and permanent change to an unconstitutional cash bail and misdemeanor public defender system that discriminates against people who are financially strapped.

In the amended complaint, Plaintiff Barbara Hamilton alleges that Attorney B. Reid Zeh, III, illegally required a private payment of $2,500 to represent her son on a misdemeanor charge even though the taxpayers of Glynn County already pay Zeh to represent impoverished individuals unable to afford an attorney.

“Glynn County officials continue to operate two different criminal justice systems - one for people with money and another for people without,” stated Andrea Woods, Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “Reid Zeh has not only ignored his duty to advocate for poor arrestees who need his help, he has abused this position of trust by extorting people like Ms. Hamilton when they seek his help for themselves or a loved one.”

In a sworn court document, Ms. Hamilton stated, “[My son] Robert informed me that Mr. Zeh would not represent him unless he came up with $2,500 to pay Mr. Zeh. Robert could not pay, so I did. … I was not aware that Mr. Zeh was already paid by Glynn County to take misdemeanor criminal cases for indigent persons. I relied on Mr. Zeh’s representation that this money was necessary before he would help Robert.” 

As the lawsuit explains, people accused of misdemeanor crimes in Glynn County are treated differently based on the amount of money they have, which violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"The Glynn County misdemeanor public defender system holds hostage the freedom of individuals arrested for misdemeanors," stated Sean J. Young, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia, "leaving those who are financially strapped without any advocate to assist them as required by law.”

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