Bailing Out 

Delays led Just City to drop its bail fund program, but government leaders say they were just doing due diligence.

Edward Stanton Jr., the Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk, said his office never opposed a now-suspended criminal justice reform project but did not say whether or not he'd continue to advocate for it on his own. Last month, leaders of Just City, a Memphis-based nonprofit, said they suspended their pursuit of a bail fund program here. The program is designed to use a reserve of private donor funds to cover cash bail for people who are deemed likely to return for their court dates.

The group began work in January on bail fund programs in Memphis and Nashville. Just City launched the Nashville program in June and has bailed out six people since then. But the project hit snags in Memphis, according to Just City executive director Josh Spickler.

In Shelby County, portions of bail money are sometimes kept to cover court costs and other fees that might apply as people make their way through the court system. Just City asked Stanton for an exemption on the court costs to keep the money rolling through its revolving bail fund.

That process, Spickler said, dragged on, and the list of people weighing in on the project grew to include the Shelby County Attorney's office, judges, and more.

click to enlarge Edward Stanton Jr. - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Edward Stanton Jr.

"It just became apparent that it's going to be a series of unending meetings, and each meeting is going to expand the cast of characters who have input on this," Spickler said, last month. "But to continue to go on an unending quest to find approval from people whose approval is not legally required ... I'm not going to engage in that."

Stanton defended his office and his process noting that he and his staff have "worked closely with and engaged in meaningful discussions with Just City concerning its proposed bail bond program."

"We have never taken the position that we oppose the program but simply that we would perform due diligence, including conferring with the General Sessions Court Judges and the county attorney's office, to ensure any new initiative launched is legally and fiscally sound," Stanton said. However, Stanton did not say whether his approval was the only one needed to green-light the bail fund project, whether such a program would be of help to his office, or whether or not he would continue to advocate on his own for a bail fund project.

In response to a question about the speedy implementation of the program in Nashville, Stanton said clerks' offices are all different. "While I cannot speak for other jurisdictions, the Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk's Office is the largest clerk's office in the state and has one of the largest fiscal operations in the entire Southeast region," Stanton said. "Therefore, one size does not always fit all."


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