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Wichita Kansas Pays $6.2 Million to Settle Detainees' Lawsuit

Wichita Kansas Pays $6.2 Million
to Settle Detainees' Lawsuit

On May 7, 2002, Wichita's City Council approved $6.2 million to be awarded to the 7,000 citizens who had their 14th Amendment rights violated. The suit filed by what the city has labeled as Municipal Court Scofflaws, (scofflaws means one who treats the law with contempt) claims that these people were found in contempt of court by Municipal Court judges without proper hearing or legal counsel. They were either jailed or forced to work at work release until their traffic or misdemeanor fines were paid even for offenses that would not require any jail time. The suit also claims that 5 ordinances in the time-to-pay docket were passed which exempted the city of Wichita from 24 state laws between 1997 and 1999.

$2.7 million, will pay each of the 7000 citizens affected $115 with an additional payment between $150 and $500 which will depend on the time that they spent in jail. The city will forfeit $3.5 million in unpaid fines. See: Reinschmiedt v. City of Wichita, KS, No. 99C2312 (Sedgwick Co., Kan., Dist. Ct.). An additional million dollars will be awarded to the plaintiff's attorneys that will be split between two law firms.

A statement released with the city on May 7, 2002, says. "The city of Wichita admits no wrongdoing but is agreeing to settle the case to save taxpayers the cost of a lengthy trail." This was after the city had already spent more than $270,000 fighting the lawsuit over a 3 year period. Local legal experts stated that a civil trial would cost between $25 and $50 thousand dollars. The only member of council who would comment was Bob Martz, he said. "It was something that had to be done, so we did it." And. "I guess it was fair. There are always questions on both sides of the issue. Is it right? Is it fair? It was something that had to be done."

David Reinschmiedt a main plaintiff in the class action suit received fines of $347 and $202, between 1994 and 1997, he was arrested for not paying these fines on January 8, 1999, and put on a "pay before release" status. Kathy Horst was one of 121 people in June of 1999, who were ordered to work at work release program to pay off their fines. Horst received a pamphlet stating that she could be arrested if she did not work in the program for $5 an hour. She spent 30 days in the work program.

The time-to-pay docket was terminated in 1999 after collecting $48.8 million from 1997 to 1999 from the 78,000 cases heard in the Municipal Court. In 1999, Wichita went to a voluntary work program, and all unpaid fines are handed over to a collection agency after 30 days.

Sources: National Jury Verdict Reporter, The Wichita Eagle

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Related legal case

Reinschmiedt v. City of Wichita