Lawsuit accuses Miss. judge of unlawfully jailing people unable to pay fines

The suit says Judge John Ross has put people who cannot pay their fines in jail without considering their ability to pay them


By CorrectionsOne Staff

CORINTH, Miss. — A new federal lawsuit accuses a Mississippi city of running a debtor’s prison.

The Clarion Ledger reports that the lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law accuses Judge John C. Ross of unlawfully jailing people who can’t pay fines. The suit also said that the city has routinely violated the constitutional rights of people facing misdemeanor charges by holding them in jail until they can pay bail or their fine without considering their ability to pay.

One of the people whose rights were allegedly violated is Brian Keith Howell, a man whose leg was amputated following a car accident. According to the suit, Howell was arrested on a warrant for three minor traffic violations. Judge Ross ordered Howell to pay a $1,000 fine or sit in jail for 50 days.

When Howell attempted to tell the judge he was working on getting disability benefits and couldn’t pay the fine right away, Ross didn’t take it into consideration, the lawsuit alleges. 

Since Ross only holds court on Mondays, people who have been arrested are sometimes in jail for a week or longer before appearing in court. 

Ross said he could not comment since the case is in litigation.

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