- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Lawyers say they’re on track to settle a lawsuit that claims the city of Biloxi is illegally jailing people who can’t pay fines.

Court records following a Monday phone conference with U.S. Magistrate Judge John C. Gargiulo show that at least a partial settlement agreement “has been drafted and circulated within the past week.”

The city and the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the three plaintiffs in the case, agreed Nov. 2 to freeze the lawsuit until Jan. 15 to discuss a possible settlement. Biloxi city attorney Gerald Blessey and ALCU lawyer Nusrat Chodhury said that while details remain, both sides are trying to reach an agreement by then.

“We’re negotiating in good faith,” Chodhury said.

Before a settlement can be reached, though, Biloxi’s former for-profit probation service must also agree. Judicial Correction Services stopped doing business in Biloxi last year, but the plaintiffs are demanding that both JCS and the city pay money damages.



Court records show that lawyers for the ACLU and the company told Gargiulo Monday that they too would talk. Jim Cheney, a spokesman for Judicial Correction Services, said the company doesn’t talk about lawsuits. He didn’t immediately answer questions Monday about settlements the company has agreed to in the past.

The suit is one of a series nationwide to claim authorities are ignoring constitutional protections against imprisoning poor people.

Filed in federal court in Gulfport, the suit alleges that Biloxi jailed 415 people from September 2014 through March 26 of this year for failure to pay fines without offering them a lawyer or trying to determine if they had enough money to pay. The ACLU says Biloxi should have known better in part because neighboring Gulfport was sued on similar charges a decade ago.

The plaintiffs want Biloxi to be barred from those practices and also pay them damages for time they spent in jail.

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Online: ACLU complaint against Biloxi: https://bit.ly/1QTFCtc

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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