- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A judicial discipline panel on Thursday suspended a Montgomery municipal judge over the jailing of indigent defendants who couldn’t pay fines.

Montgomery Municipal Judge Armstead Lester Hayes III will be suspended from his position until October under the decision announced by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. The suspension is part of a settlement agreement Hayes reached with the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which filed the complaint against him.

Hayes was accused of incarcerating traffic offenders for failing to pay fines and costs without first making a sufficient inquiry about their ability to pay. He also referred defendants to a private probation company. Montgomery’s use of the company had been the subject of multiple lawsuits.

The court said Hayes will be suspended without pay for 11 months. Hayes was first suspended when the charges were filed in November, so he can return to the bench in October.

Judges on the court called the allegations against Hayes “deeply troubling” but also noted his willingness to accept responsibility and remedy the matter.

An attorney for Hayes could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Today’s sanctions against Judge Hayes are a reminder that it is absolutely illegal to jail someone simply because they are poor. The good news is, we believe the Montgomery court has changed its practices. The bad news is, for far too long, jailing those who could not pay was standard practice. Any other judge who is still doing this should be on notice their practices won’t be tolerated, “Sam Brooke of the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement.

Hayes had been the presiding judge of the Montgomery Municipal Court since 2002.

The court also ordered Hayes to pay $4,312 to cover the cost of the judicial discipline proceeding.

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