By Jay Socol, Public Communications Director
College Station Municipal Court Judge Ed Spillane talks every year about how he doesn’t want to send anyone to jail. He offers too many alternatives — warrant amnesty, payment plans, community service — for those unable to pay fines for Class-C misdemeanors or who have outstanding warrants from his court.
But apparently Judge Spillane’s message to the public — that indigent people are constitutionally protected from being sent to a “debtor’s prison” — has drawn attention from the entertainment industry, law schools, universities, and the highest levels of the federal government.
How? He wrote a letter, and The Washington Post did the rest.
In this podcast edition, Judge Spillane explains the remarkable traction his message is receiving.
Jay Socol (@jaysocol) is in his seventh year as College Station’s public communications director. A 1991 graduate of Texas A&M. Jay has also been communications director for the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, public information officer for the City of Bryan, and news director at several Bryan-College Station area radio stations. He is a native of Breckenridge.
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Editor’s Note: This op-ed first appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post. As of Monday afternoon, it had received more than 200,000 clicks on the Post’s website.
By Ed Spillane, Presiding Judge, College Station Municipal Court
Melissa J. showed up in my court last year with four kids in tow. Her children quietly watched from a nearby table while I spoke with her. The charges against her — driving with an invalid license, driving without insurance, not wearing a seat belt, failure to use a child safety seat properly and four failures to appear — were nothing unusual for municipal court. Nor were her fines of several thousand dollars.
But for Melissa, who had a low-paying job and a husband in prison, and who looked like she hadn’t slept in days, that number might as well have been several million.
As a municipal judge in College Station, I see 10 to 12 defendants each day who were arrested on fine-only charges: things like public intoxication, shoplifting, disorderly conduct and traffic offenses. Many of these people, like Melissa, have no money to pay their fines, let alone hire a lawyer.
What to do with these cases?