Ruling against wrongly detained drug court participants appealed

Eighteen people who sued after they were jailed without due process while participating in the Clark County Drug Court program have appealed summary judgment against them in their civil rights lawsuit against officials who formerly oversaw the program.

The litigants sued former Clark Circuit Judge Jerome Jacobi and court officers who they allege arrested and jailed them — in some cases for months — without due process for allegedly providing positive or diluted drug screens while participating in the drug court program.

The problems with the southern Indiana drug court were significant enough that the Indiana Judicial Center suspended its operations in 2014. Participants who claimed they were wrongly jailed without hearings or an attorney sued, and in the wake of the court’s problems, Jacobi left the bench and agreed to never again serve as an Indiana judge.

Nevertheless, Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment July 27 in favor of the state defendants, even though she wrote the drug court had been a “wholly indefensible system” whose operations were “random, inconsistent, happenstance, arbitrary, capricious, negligent and unjust.”  

Barker ruled state sovereign immunity barred the plaintiffs from recovering money damages. Plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Brennan Soergel, a partner at the Bolus Law Firm in Louisville, Kentucky, called the ruling “manifestly unjust.”

“(W)e acknowledge Plaintiffs’ pervasive, palpable frustration in waging this legal assault, which feeling arises out of their inability to overcome the central obstacle to their success, that is, the fact that the primary tortfeasor responsible for their constitutional deprivations was Clark Circuit Court Judge Jerome Jacobi acting in his role as the presiding judge of the Drug Treatment Court,” Barker wrote in ruling against the plaintiffs in Hoffman, et al. v. Jacobi, et al., 4:14-cv-00012.

“Ordinarily, (plaintiffs) would not be entirely without a remedy,” Barker wrote. “… Here, however, such remedies are not available because, following the reports of due process violations to the Indiana Judicial Center, the (Drug Treatment Court) was decertified, the remaining participants were allowed to complete the Program under the guidance of (Clark Circuit) Chief Judge (Vicki) Carmichael, Judge Jacobi was removed from office … and the operations of the problem-solving court officially ended in June 2015.” The drug court was later recertified under Carmichael’s administration.

No briefing schedule has yet been set in the appeal now before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Hoffman v. Jacobi, 17-2750.

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