New Orleans, LA: Debtors' Prison


The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Professor Bill Quigley, Anna Lellelid, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

In Louisiana, the judges who order and collect fines and fees from impoverished criminal defendants also depend on that money to fund their own budgets. We filed suit in federal court against the City of New Orleans and its local judges, who jailed thousands of human beings each year just for being too poor to pay those fines and fees. The court declared that the City’s judges violate the Constitution when they jail people for nonpayment without considering those people’s ability to pay. The court also found that the City's court-funding scheme creates an unconstitutional conflict of interest for its judges by encouraging them to maximize convictions and to charge as much money as possible for each one.

In August 2018, we won declaratory judgment in this case. The court found that New Orleans was unconstitutionally jailing people too poor to pay court fines, without inquiry into their ability to pay. As part of this groundbreaking decision, the federal court also essentially struck down Louisiana's court funding system. As a result, New Orleans must stop imposing and collecting court debts unless and until the state develops a new court funding scheme that doesn't depend on judges collecting money from the impoverished people prosecuted in their courts. We could not have done it without our amazing partners at The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, or without the two dedicated attorneys who led the way on the ground in New Orleans at every step, Bill Quigley and Anna Lellelid.

Filings: Second Amended Complaint
Summary Judgement Ruling
Statement of Facts
Final Declaratory Judgment
Appeals Court Ruling Affirming District Court Decision