A Sherwood woman’s federal lawsuit seeking monetary damages against the city of Sherwood for alleged violations of her constitutional rights during her prosecution on hot-check charges should be thrown out of court, attorneys for the city argued Tuesday.
In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Tamatrice Williams, Arkansas Municipal League attorneys John Wilkerson and Michael Mosley said the woman’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations; involve acts allegedly committed by a state judge, which cannot bind the city; could have been raised in defense of her prosecution; and cannot be pursued against the city because it is entitled to sovereign immunity.
Williams’ lawsuit, filed by attorney Mike Laux of Little Rock, mirrors the allegations in a previous lawsuit, settled in November, that broadly challenged the constitutionality of the city’s hot-check court’s practices on behalf of all defendants in the court over a period of years. The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and led to new policies that, among other things, require Judge Milas “Butch” Hale to evaluate each defendant’s ability to pay before determining a sentence.
Attorneys for the city said that while the new lawsuit “waxes rhapsodic about the … allegedly unconstitutional scheme,” Williams’ allegations actually focus on a narrower issue: Hale imposing a fine on Williams, then having her arrested and jailed because she couldn’t pay, without advising her that she had a right to an attorney.
Those complaints, the attorneys argued, “are judicial acts by a state district court judge, not actions taken by the city of Sherwood.”
Williams is seeking compensatory and punitive damages but isn’t challenging her underlying hot-check conviction, which Laux said is “a very important distinction” between the two cases.
Wilkerson and Mosley argued in their motion that while the lawsuit asserts that Hale and the hot-check court are all agents, officials and policymakers of the city, that isn’t true — as state law and the federal court have said.
“The Sherwood District Court was established by the Arkansas Legislature as a department of the 31st District of the state district court system; the city had no role in establishing the court,” their motion states. They cited a recent ruling of U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr., the presiding judge, in another case: “State district court judges are state government officials and are not employees of the cities.”
Also, the statute of limitations for filing civil rights cases, according to the U.S. Code, is three years, which the attorneys said means Williams’ case was filed a day too late.
The Feb. 1 lawsuit states that Williams was arrested in December 2014 and jailed until late January 2015.
The attorneys for the city said she was required to file suit by Jan. 31.
Metro on 02/21/2018