PERRY COUNTY, AL. — An Alabama judge is facing a judicial ethics complaint, filed by Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, after the civil rights organization alleged he forced defendants who were unable to pay court fees to either give blood or go to jail.
The civil rights watchdog says Judge Marvin Wiggins threatened people who owed fines with jailtime if they didn’t give blood. Wiggins is facing a possible ethics investigation.
According to the SPLC, defendants in more than 500 criminal cases were summoned to appear before Perry County Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins on Sept. 17. While in his courtroom, Judge Wiggins is said to have threatened defendants, some of whom had cases as minor as hunting violations, WSFA reports.
Recorded on audio obtained by the SPLC, Judge Wiggins reportedly tells defendants to pay up, give blood or go to jail.
“Consider that as a discount rather than putting you in jail, if you do not have any money,” Wiggins reportedly said. “So, if you do not have any money and you don’t want to go to jail, consider giving blood today and bring your receipt back or the sheriff has enough handcuffs for those who do not have money.”
“Thank you for donating. You know what? You’re still doing a good thing,” a blood drive worker was recorded saying.
“Well and I normally do. But, I don’t like being told I have to or I’m going to jail,” says one of the defendants.
Sara Zampierin, an attorney with the SPLC said, “This is a shocking disregard for not only judicial ethics but for the constitutional rights of defendants. Judges may not jail someone simply because they are poor and not able to pay. We’re asking the Judicial Inquiry Commission to sanction Judge Wiggins for his conduct. And we’re also calling on all courts in Alabama to re-examine their procedures to ensure that the poor are not being wrongfully threatened with jail.”
When asked about the judge’s order, the governor expressed concern.
“I not so sure you can ask somebody to do an invasive procedure to pay off a debt,” said Robert J. Bentley, the Alabama Governor.
LifeSouth Community Blood Center, which ran a blood drive at the courthouse that day, issued the following response to the complaint:
Fifty-four donors were registered at the Perry County Courthouse blood drive on September 17th. After receiving a complaint from one of the donors after the blood drive, we initiated an investigation. The blood collected remains in quarantine and the investigation is ongoing. We are in the process of following up with each donor as the safety of the blood supply is our highest priority.
We’d like to take the opportunity to educate all members of the community – that blood donation is voluntary – as this is essential in maintaining safe blood for patients in our community hospitals.
The SPLC says some of these defendants have been paying their fees for years but are still thousands in debt.
Judge Wiggins has not publicly reacted to the complaint filed against him.