NEW ALBANY, Indiana — A federal magistrate has approved class-action status for a lawsuit accusing officials in a southern Indiana county of violating the civil rights of dozens of drug court participants who languished behind bars without a hearing, sometimes for months.
The magistrate in New Albany certified two classes of potential victims totaling 40 people Thursday in the lawsuit filed by Louisville, Kentucky, attorney Mike Augustus, The Courier-Journal reported (http://cjky.it/1u4u4tM ).
The suit alleges civil rights violations against participants in Clark County's drug treatment program who say they languished in jail without a hearing, attorney or other due process.
One of the plaintiffs is a woman who was sentenced to 48 hours in jail in August 2013, pending evaluation for her second diluted drug test. She ended up spending about five months in jail and the evaluation never happened.
The county's drug court was suspended in February by the Indiana Judicial Center, an arm of the state Supreme Court, after allegations of unlawful conduct by drug court staff and practices harmful to participants. That was the first time Indiana had suspended a drug court or any other problem-solving court.
However, the Indiana Supreme Court agreed to reinstate the drug court conditionally in March when it lifted the ban strictly to allow existing participants a chance to complete treatment and have their charges dismissed.
Augustus wrote in a brief filed this week in support of class-action status that the list of plaintiffs "will undoubtedly grow," although he and his clients have been unable to "obtain even rudimentary information" about potential victims, including a list of drug court participants from 2012 to 2014.
"This tally was the result of a grossly imperfect search of Clark County's court records," Augustus wrote.
Sgt. Jerry Goodin, an Indiana State Police spokesman, said its investigation into potential criminal charges in the case has been completed. Those findings have been turned over to Jefferson County Prosecutor Chad Lewis, who was appointed special prosecutor in the case.
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com
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