Two men have filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Norwalk and its municipal court, alleging false arrest and violations of their constitutional rights.
Joshua Ward, 36, of Huron, and Jeremiah Stover, of 38, Sandusky, are the first two plaintiffs in the case, filed recently in U.S. Northern District Court.
The case refers to past reports from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has accused Norwalk Municipal Court and several other courts in the state of unlawfully sending people to jail for failure to pay fines and costs.
According to state law, a defendant facing jail time for failure to pay a fine has a right to be represented by an attorney at a hearing to determine if he or she can afford to pay the fine.
The ACLU says a number of courts in Ohio have ignored this law, as well as ignoring another law that says a defendant should receive a $50 credit toward a fine for each day in jail.
This past spring, the ACLU sent letters to Sandusky and Norwalk municipal courts, accusing judges Erich O’Brien and the now-retired John Ridge of failing to follow these laws.
Ridge changed his policy last year, after the ACLU started monitoring his court sessions.
Court records show Ward and Stover both received credit toward their fines, based on the jail time they served.
The lawsuit says Ward was forced to serve eight months in jail because of court fines he owed. He received $5,200 worth of credit toward fines in several cases, including three involving driving under the influence, according to court records.
Stover has received $1,221 credit for three months he served, according to court records.
The two men are seeking compensatory damages and the costs of pursuing the lawsuit. Their attorney, John Gold, of Sandusky, is also seeking fees.