Sally Yates dips into legal fight over Georgia town's bail practices

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates is getting involved in a legal fight over the city of Calhoun's bail practices.

Yates, whom President Donald Trump fired in January for refusing to carry out his travel ban, joined more than two-dozen current and former prosecutors earlier this week urging an Atlanta-based federal appeals court to strike down the Northwest Georgia town's bail system.

“A bail system that indiscriminately jails indigent individuals charged with misdemeanors based solely on their economic status while immediately releasing those who can afford to post a bond is inconsistent with our country’s promise of equal justice,” Yates said in a written statement accompanying the friend of the court brief.

A class-action suit was brought against the town for its practice of detaining defendants facing misdemeanor charges until their trials unless they could pay bail. Our colleague Bill Rankin breaks down the case this way:

The lawsuit was filed by Maurice Walker, who was arrested in 2015 for being a pedestrian under the influence of alcohol. He was detained for six days because he could not post a $160 bond. The city has used a schedule that sets bail based solely on the crime being charged, not the offender’s ability to pay.

After Walker filed suit, the city changed its practice to give detainees a bond hearing within 48 hours after their arrest. Since (U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy) issued his injunction, people charged in Calhoun with misdemeanors have been released on their own recognizance.

The Yates-signed legal brief was filed by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, where the onetime Atlanta-based U.S. attorney is now a distinguished lecturer.

Signatories argued the practice of detaining poor people who cannot post bail is not only unconstitutional, but "counterproductive" to law enforcement since it damages trust in the justice system in communities where prosecutors need victims and witnesses to testify.

On the other side of the issue, groups like the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, the American Bail Coalition and the International Municipal Lawyers Association have argued that systems similar to Calhoun's are kosher, ensuring that the accused will come to court appointments.

Since being fired by Trump, Democrats have floated Yates' name as a potential candidate for office. But Yates last month said she has "never been drawn to the idea of elective office."

Read more about this closely-watched case: 

Calhoun case: Should a poor person who can’t make bail be held in jail?

Appeals court tells judge to try again in Calhoun bail case

Don’t lock up people too poor to make bail, Atlanta court is urged

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...