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Williams v. Every Judge In Maine

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 15, 2016

EVERY JUDGE IN MAINE, et al., Defendants


          D. Brock Hornby United States District Judge

         On July 20, 2016, the United States Magistrate Judge filed with the court, with a copy to the plaintiff, his Recommended Decision After Screening Pleading Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (ECF No. 5.) The plaintiff filed his objection to the Recommended Decision on August 5, 2016. (“Pl.’s Obj.”) (ECF No. 6.) I have reviewed and considered the Recommended Decision, together with the entire record; I have made a de novo determination of all matters adjudicated by the Recommended Decision; and I concur with the recommendations of the United States Magistrate Judge for the reasons set forth in the Recommended Decision, as clarified below, and determine that no further proceeding is necessary.

         I make the following additional observations about the merits of the plaintiff’s constitutional claim because he gave the Magistrate Judge very little detail in his original Complaint beyond claiming that what happened to him was extortion. See Compl. at 4-5 (ECF No. 1). In the plaintiff’s objection to the Recommended Decision (titled “Motion for Leave of Court to Amend Complaint”), [1]he has now given ten pages of single-spaced arguments and assertions, along with exhibits.

         This is a dispute over the bail bond fee that Maine law permits a bail commissioner to charge in setting bail. 15 M.R.S.A. § 023(5) (2015). The maximum fee is $60, which is what the commissioner charged Williams on September 19, 2014, when he set bail for Williams at $500 upon Williams’s arrest. Pl.’s Obj. at 1. When the charges against Williams were ultimately dismissed, he received a refund of his $500 bail, but not the $60 bail bond fee. Id. Nowhere does Williams allege that he was indigent at the time of his arrest and unable to pay the fee. In fact, he did pay it and secured his release on bail.[2]See id. As a result, I find it unnecessary to determine whether Williams could have requested relief from the fee based upon indigency.[3]

         Instead, Williams’s challenge is to the imposition of a fee that is unrefundable even when a person is never found guilty of the criminal charges that provoked the bail and the bail fee. Williams calls the retention of this unrefundable fee extortion, and says that his “actionable claim is common law extortion.” Pl.’s Obj. at 5.

         There has been recent public debate about Maine’s system for pretrial incarceration and restrictions. This past December, Maine’s Pretrial Justice Reform Task Force recommended eliminating the requirement that defendants in Maine pay bail commissioner fees, stating:

The Task Force believes that Maine law should be amended to create a centralized statewide fund from which bail commissioners could be paid. They would be paid on a flat set fee for each bail occurrence.
The Task Force felt that whether a person is promptly bailed should not depend upon the individual’s ability to secure the bail commissioner’s fee. Additionally, many members of the bail subcommittee expressed the concern that Defendants do not currently pay for the salaries for administrative functions of employees who perform other pretrial functions and that the same rule should apply to bail commissioners.

         Hon. Robert E. Mullen, Report of the Intergovernmental Pretrial Justice Reform Task Force at 24 (Dec. 2015). Legislation was introduced to have the Judicial Department pay the bail commissioner fee, see L.D. 1639, § 4 (127th Legis. 2016), but it was amended to delete that requirement, stating that “[t]he Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Court has committed to establishing a working group to address the challenges of the current bail system, including the issue of bail commissioner fees.” Comm. Amend. A to L.D.1639, No. S-453 (126 Legis. 2016).

         But whether Maine’s pretrial bail system could be improved is a far different question than whether it violates federal law, specifically the U.S. Constitution. Williams says that he is not raising an excessive bail argument under the Eighth Amendment, but he does argue violations of the Fourth Amendment (an unreasonable seizure); the Fifth[4] and Fourteenth Amendments (deprivation of liberty and property without due process; denial of equal protection); and the Sixth Amendment (Williams did not have a lawyer when the bail commissioner set the fee). See Pl.’s Obj. at 3-4.

         I am aware of no authority for the proposition that there is a Sixth Amendment right to counsel when the bail commissioner sets his fee.

         I follow the Fifth Circuit’s decision that a bail fee does not create a Fourth Amendment problem. Broussard v. Parish of Orleans, 318 F.3d 644, 662 (5th Cir. 2003).

         With respect to due process[5] and equal protection, the Supreme Court of the United States and federal appellate courts have made clear that reasonable administrative amounts can be charged for the bail process as a “cost-retention provision.” Schilb v. Kuebel, 404 U.S. 357, 365 (1971). In Schilb, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld Illinois’s bail-fee system despite the arguments that it (1) “is imposed on only one segment of the class gaining pretrial release; (2) that it is imposed on the poor and nonaffluent and not on the rich and affluent; and (3) that its imposition with respect to an accused found innocent amounts to a court cost assessed against the not-guilty person.” Id. at 366 (footnote omitted). Schilb focused on the equal protection arguments and rejected them. Id. at 365-369. But in rejecting the argument that a bail fee is a denial of due process because it amounts to court costs assessed against an innocent person, the Court held that “bail bond costs” are not costs of prosecution, but “an administrative cost imposed upon all those, guilty and innocent alike, who seek the benefit of [a bail bond with a 10% cash deposit].” Id. at 370-71. It found therefore that a bail-fee system did not violate the Due Process Clause, unlike Giaccio v. Pennsylvania, 382 U.S. 399 (1966), where the Court had found it unconstitutional for Pennsylvania to impose court costs on a defendant whom the jury acquitted.[6] Id. at 404-05. After Schilb, the Fifth Circuit upheld Louisiana’s bail bond fee against a due process challenge, reasoning “that Schilb specifically rejected a fundamental rights implication of such fees, ” that the private interests at stake were “not great, ” and that the due process argument failed because the state could validly claim administrative fees to run the system. Broussard, 318 F.3d at 655. The Seventh Circuit did likewise in Payton v. Cty. Of Carroll, 473 F.3d 845, 850-51 (7th Cir. 2007). Most of these cases and others that the Magistrate Judge cites in his Recommended Decision involved lower administrative payments[7] than Maine’s $60 fee, but $60 is within the constitutional range of a cost-retention provision.[8]

         Williams seems to suggest that state actors violated his Fourteenth Amendment right ...

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