ACLU warns Sandusky Muni Court to stop jailing debtors

Report says Ohio judges and courts are violating U.S. and state constitution sending people to jail for not paying fines.
Apr 4, 2013

Click here to read letter to Sandusky Municipal Court, warning O'Brien to stop the practice or face a federal lawsuit.  

"The U.S.Constitution has long prohibited the use of debtors' prisons to incarcerate defendants who cannot afford to pay fines and court costs," Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio wrote to O'Brien. 

"It is our sincere hope that we can avoid instituting litigation over these issues," Link wrote, asking O'Brien to stop the practice and establish a written policy detailing compliance with the law. She also asked O'Brien to "remove from the total amounts owed by defendants any costs and fees charged to them as a result of warrants based on failure to pay fines and costs." 

The letter was copied to Ohio Supreme Court chief Justice Maureen O'Connor.

Get the Register to read about reaction to to the ACLU's complaint against Sandusky Municipal Court. 

Click here to watch videos interviews with Ohioans who were incarcerated after failing to pay debt.

Click here to read the report. 


John Harville

Such generalizations Gammasgurl! Were you speeding? Were there other circumstances?

BW1's picture

If you don't pay traffic fines, they suspend your license


The incentive to pay is not paying hurts your credit.


If ya can't pay the fine
Don't do the crime

John Harville

goofass.... so nice to talk to someone who never has exceeded the speed limit, never driven after a beer with the guys, never drove with expired license (careful), never tossed something out the car window, never spat in public (that one is still on the books), never violated curfew as a kid, never tossed trash in the Lake, never took more than the limit, never jaywalked, never walked against the light, never turned right on red in a no-turn zone, never spewed some libel or slander on here?
Never got caught.

Julie R.

@ grandmasgirl: You're missing the point. The U.S. Constitution has long prohibited the use of debtors' prisons to incarcerate defendants who cannot afford to pay fines and court costs. It does not say people that REFUSE to pay; it says people that cannot AFFORD to pay.

Also, if you notice, it says that the Sandusky Munincipal Court didn't even remove from the total amounts owed by the defendants any costs and fees charged to them as a result of warrants based on failure to pay fines and costs. In other words, for each day they spent in jail $50.00 should have been removed from their fines and wasn't.


Many of you may not know this but, Judge Erich O'brien, has a long standing history of breaking the law. He along with several other employees from Sandusky Municipal Court were indicted on multiple charges regarding the theft of public monies around the time the Elsebeth Baumgartner and Krista Harris public corruption scandal was surfacing in Erie County.

The only reason O'brien wasn't convicted was because Chief Justice Thomas Moyer allegedly forced the special prosecutor to dismiss the charges against him.

And now we have breaking news regarding public corruption involving Judge O'brien and other county employees having orderd the illegal detention and arrest of numerous individuals that were subjected to strip searches and deplorable living condtions.

Well, I would say that this sounds like a scandal to me. I wonder when, and if these corrupt officials will be charged and arrested for violating multiple statues including but not limited to: Civil Rights Violations, Sham Legal Process, Kidnapping, Unlawful Restraint, falsification, and Theft by Deception.

More importantly, I think someone should immediately begin the process of filing grievances with the Ohio Disciplinary Counsel to have an investigation into the illegal and unethical actions of Judge Erich O'brien.

I'd also like to suggest an online petition to remove him from office asap.

People it's time to start demanding that your public officials be held to the standards that they hold you too.


West, You mention O'brien and others being indicted. Below I have posted links to a Toledo Blade (Ohio) news article from 2002. Is this what you were referring to?

John Harville

And who was that notorious judge that let suits sit for months or years without deciding them.... Maschari?

I know three different couples who waited as long as four years to get final decrees after all the hearings, temporary orders, support orders. After several years the Supreme Court finally sanctioned her.

Other judges reduce DUI to 'reckless operation' - four or five times - so the drivers wouldn't lose their licences and insurance.

Julie R.

"And who was that notorious judge that let suits sit for months or years without deciding them ... Maschari? I know three different couples who waited as long as four years ......."

Four years? That's nothing. My mother passed away in late 2002. The probate court and the common pleas court of Binette were still playing their games in 2011.

Julie R.

Wow, I never knew that about O'Brien. So how could he still be a judge if he was indicted on theft of public monies in 2002?

Julie R.

Before sending a defendant to jail for failure to pay fines, a judge must hold a hearing to determine if a failure to pay was willful, or if the defendant simply didn't have the money. The hearing must be on record, and the defendant must have an attorney present.

According to ACLU officials there's no evidence of O'Brien ever holding such hearings. There's also no evidence of O'Brien following the law by giving the defendants $50 credit for back fines for each day spent in jail, even though such credits are required by law.


Prosecutors in Erie county don't follow the law either...


Prosecutors in Erie County, Ohio are corrupt and do not follow the laws of Ohio or the US Constitution.


Claimant...You are a fool if you agree to pay a set amount, thanks to the mercy of the courts, and you don't pay it! What do you expect, freedom? Oh, you were "going to pay the payment", but you were arrested on the way. oooops, sorry, you should have thought about that earlier. You pay, or go to jail! Not to mention your 5 kids you never raised. ACLU should better scrutinize, take a closer look about those you cry for, or those you represent.

BW1's picture

Constitutional rights are not limited to "nice people"


Payday Lenders have been exploiting a loophole to get their debtors jailed when the debtors don't pay. Here’s how it works: The creditor goes to court and gets a judgement against the debtor. In many cases, this action is successful only because the debtor never shows up to defend him or herself, oftentimes it being a case of the debtor having never received the paperwork telling them when to show up to court.

Once the creditor has obtained this judgment, they ask the judge for an “examination.” In theory, this process is intended to assess whether or not the indebted person has bank accounts or other assets that can be seized to pay their debts. Creditors are exploiting this process, filing multiple requests for examinations that force people to return to court over and over. And if they don’t appear in court, then the creditor asks for a “body attachment,” which forces the imprisonment of the debtor until the next hearing — or until they cough up bail money that’s often the same amount as the debt, and often is turned over directly to the creditors. In this way, the creditor often gets payment on the original debt as well as on all sorts of add-on interest and penalties.

Creditors say they need to use these methods to make sure people show up for their court dates. But some states are fighting back against the "debtors prison" tactics. As an example, Illinois' governor signed off on a law last year prohibiting the use of body attachments in debt suits.

Constitutionally speaking, it's not legal to jail a person for debt, but where there's money to be made, there are those who will gladly spend a little money to (find loopholes) make a lot of money.


And the story starts again!

Now The Rest of...

They can't or won't pay the fines, no problem. Forfeit their drivers license, block their license plate renewal, place it on their credit report as an unpaid debt giving them every incentive to pay up. No constitutional issue or expenses to the taxpayers.


A couple of years ago I paid a fine for a speeding ticket. Standing in the court office at the desk that little girl who's a court police officer took a call. It went something like this....Yes you have to go to jail for 3 days....Yes, three days....That's not my problem, you shouldn't have gotten arrested....Friday....Bye...She then proceeded to laugh and got the girls in the office laughing. "He said he'll lose his job. That's not my problem." Its a joke to all of them. I'm glad they're finally getting caught. Yes, some people just don't pay the fines but some, they can't. And if you've been in court for a ticket you hear that. All in all, being put in jail for not paying is illegal regardless of what this town says.

Julie R.

That sounds kind of similar to some of the unprofessional things I witnessed in the Clerk of Court's office when Barb Johnson was on a medical leave.

Now The Rest of...

Do you know what the 3 days were for? Three days is the mandated minimum for DUI. Good chance that had nothing to do with fine payments.


Is there any chance of recalling the elected judges who now are sitting on the benches in Erie county as they are elected officials? Seriously?


OK people. First of all, it doesn't mean you are a staunch conservative because you don't agree with the ACLU on something. The other thing I wanted to say is...If I broke the law and faced fines or incarceration, once I gave my savings and couldn't pay anymore what do you think would happen? I would lose my house,my job and have to do my time. Beside the fact that I would not break the law,don't you think this would be somewhat of a deterrent not to do it in the first place? Come on people use some common sense. Don't we have enough law breakers running the streets as it is? The laws are the same for everyone. All of a us.

Julie R.

"Don't we have enough law breakers running the streets as it is?"

That's true ..... and it even includes the ones that wear the black robes.


As far as a traffic violation, pay your fine. What is the big deal. If you need to make arrangements, do that. If the fine exceeds what you can ever possibly pay, than you probably did something more serious, something to intentionally break the law. DUI, DUS etc. These are not driving. " mistakes".

Julie R.

Erie County sure has some real sorry excuses for judges, don't they? I already knew that fact from personal experience but I never knew any of those things about O'Brien. Did the SR carry that story back in 2002? If so, I must have missed it. I know of others that said they must have missed it, too.


Well if someone dont want to pay fines, then dont get in trouble, I know a few people in Sandusky that view the court like its a joke, and even though they have money to pay on fines they just dont care then cry when they get caught, like they say dont do the crime if you cant do the time. Stop crying about it because in the end most of them know they was breaking the law.


Does the ACLU take into consideration that all these "Poor" people are able to buy beer, cigarettes and drugs, just not pay their fines!! It's time to wake up America!!!!!


You're stereotyping.