Missouri county sued over jail time for unpaid court costs

U.S. Supreme Court

A Missouri man at the heart of a state Supreme Court case that overturned what critics called modern-day debtors’ prisons is back in jail and suing the local officials who put him there.

Warrensburg resident George Richey, 65, is one of two Missouri men who sued over boarding costs for time spent in county jails, which are commonly referred to as board bills.

Richey spent 65 days in jail in 2016 for not paying past board bills. Supreme Court judges last year unanimously sided with him, writing in an opinion that while inmates are responsible for those costs, “if such responsibilities fall delinquent, the debts cannot be taxed as court costs and the failure to pay that debt cannot result in another incarceration.”

The nonprofit legal defense organization ArchCity Defenders on Tuesday sued St. Clair County and Associate Circuit County Judge Jerry Rellihan on behalf of Richey for the harm caused by his unlawful imprisonment.

Richey’s lawyers wrote in a Tuesday court filing that the time he spent in jail meant he lost “his home, all of his personal belongings, and lived in constant fear of arrest for the past four years.”

“I have the clothes on my back, but that’s it. This has caused me to lose everything,” Richey said in a statement. “I’m not the only one these counties are picking on, and I’m taking a stand because these crooked practices can’t continue.”

Associated Press requests for comment to St. Clair County officials were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Richey’s lawyers also argued that the judge retaliated against him for taking his board bill case to the Supreme Court.

Three months after the high court’s ruling, Rellihan sentenced Richey to more than two years in county jail for probation violations and misdemeanor counts of assault, trespassing and disturbing the peace.

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