New Orleans, La.—This afternoon, Judge Carl J. Barbier of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana denied a motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit against an ankle monitoring company, ETOH Monitoring, LLC (ETOH), for violating New Orleans defendants’ right to neutral adjudication.
In May, former New Orleans Criminal District Court defendants Marshall Sookram and Hakeem Meade partnered with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to challenge ETOH and Judge Paul A. Bonin for violating their constitutional rights by ordering them to pay for expensive pretrial ankle monitoring while unaware that Judge Bonin and ETOH shared a personal, political, and financial relationship: both of ETOH’s executives—one of whom is Judge Bonin’s former law partner—had together contributed over $9,600 to Judge Bonin’s judicial election campaigns and had even loaned money to the judge’s campaign.
In Judge Barbier’s ruling, he rejected ETOH’s argument that the company could not be subject to a civil rights lawsuit because it was a private entity. The judge found that ETOH was subject to civil rights laws because ankle monitoring is a government function that would be illegal if anyone were to perform it without the government’s authorization. This means that the federal court will consider whether the defendants appearing before Judge Bonin were deprived of the federal right to a fair and objective decision-maker. This is a win for New Orleanians and the Constitution.
“Today’s decision means that the case against ETOH will go forward and that our clients will be able to obtain evidence regarding the extent to which the connections between Judge Bonin and ETOH affected his judicial decision-making,” said Bill Maurer, a Senior Attorney with IJ. “With the numbers of private actors wielding government power in the criminal justice system increasing, it is imperative that they are held to the same level of objectivity and lack of bias as government actors.”
In August, Judge Bonin was dropped from the lawsuit following his announcement that he would be stepping down from the criminal court when his current term ends in December 2020. However, anyone who was subjected to Bonin’s unconstitutional practices between now and the end of his term remains covered by the class action lawsuit and is encouraged to reach out to the Institute for Justice.
“The legal system is supposed to function solely on objectivity and the interests of justice,” said IJ Attorney Jaba Tsitsuashvili. “Today’s ruling reminds private companies that they will face constitutional scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment if they exercise government functions not to serve the public, but to increase their revenue. This is especially crucial with the increasing use of ankle monitoring through private companies as an alternative to incarceration during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The next step in the case will be for the plaintiffs to ask the federal district court to certify the case as a class action.