An assigned circuit judge has dismissed “with prejudice” civil-suit claims against White County District Judge Mark Derrick that included that he facilitates an “illegal, modern-day debtors’ prison.”
“The defendant’s motion for summary judgment is granted and all claims against District Judge Mark Derrick are dismissed, with prejudice,” wrote David Laser, who serves the 23rd Judicial District. “Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment is denied; Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification is denied as moot.”
The civil suit was filed in 2018 by six plaintiffs, including four in White County, alleging that certain judicial practices of Derrick, especially concerning paying “court-imposed fines, costs, fees or restitution” are unconstitutional. The case was concluded Dec. 30.
“At all times relevant to the matters at issue in this case, Judge Derrick acted within the scope of his judicial authority and with proper jurisdiction over the persons and subject matter,” Laser said. “The actions/practices/policies of Judge Derrick which plaintiffs contest are judicial – not administrative – in nature and are derived directly from express statutory authority.”
In the findings of fact, Laser wrote that “Judge Derrick’s practice is to order individuals who are put on installment plans to pay $100 per month toward the debt imposed at sentencing. He does not conduct an initial inquiry into an individual’s ability to pay prior to setting the $100 monthly installment amount. Judge Derrick does, however, give his clerks discretion to extend payment due dates, accept less than the full amount of the monthly payment under certain circumstances, or credit community service hours performed, if the individual timely contacts the court clerk.”
In another finding of fact, the judge wrote that “community service, when available, may be completed in lieu of payment of debt.”
“Community service requires that the individual make arrangements with the local police or other authorities in the town where the conviction occurred,” Laser wrote. “Community service is credited toward an individual’s outstanding debt at the minimum wage rate for every hour of community service completed. All courts except Rose Bud have community service available. Payment extensions are typically granted and partial payments typically are accepted when an individual contacts the court clerk prior to the payment deadline.”
Laser wrote that Derrick “routinely issues arrest warrants for failure to pay for individuals who have missed payment or who have failed to contact the court clerk to seek a payment extension, make a partial payment, plead inability to pay or report completed community service.”
Concerning suspending a driver’s license, Laser wrote that Derrick has “no authority” to do that. “Arkansas grants all authority over administering laws regarding suspension and revocation of licenses to the Office of Driver Services-the Department of Finance and Administration.”
Derrick presides as judge over eight departments in eight towns within White County: Bald Knob, Beebe, Bradford, Judsonia, Kensett, McRae, Pangburn and Rose Bud. He also presides in three departments in three towns within Prairie County: Biscoe, Des Arc and DeValls Bluff. Traffic and contempt offenses comprise the majority of Derrick’s docket on any given day in each of the departments.