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Ex parte State

Supreme Court of Alabama

May 31, 2019

Ex parte State of Alabama In re: STATE of Alabama
Mandy Nicole BRADY.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS Mobile Circuit Court, CC-18-834

          Steve Marshall , atty. gen., and James W. Davis , deputy atty. gen., and Winfield J. Sinclair , asst. atty. gen., for petitioner.

         Judge James T. Patterson , Mobile, as respondent.

         BRYAN, Justice.

         The State of Alabama petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Mobile Circuit Court ("the circuit court") to vacate an order entered on September 24, 2018, in which the circuit court purported to hold certain statutes and acts of Alabama unconstitutional and required the Mobile circuit clerk to withhold 10% of the funds collected as court costs and fees from litigants in Mobile County until such time as the State has adequately funded the clerk's office.

         Facts and Procedural History

         This petition arises from a criminal proceeding pending in the circuit court. A Mobile County grand jury indicted Mandy Nicole Brady for trafficking in methamphetamine, a violation of § 13A-12-231(11)(a), Ala. Code 1975. The materials before this Court indicate that Brady posted bond on that charge and was released; however, she was subsequently arrested on a new charge, and the State moved to revoke her bond in the underlying criminal action. The circuit court granted the State's motion and revoked Brady's bond on August 16, 2018. Despite the fact that Brady was in State custody when the circuit court revoked the bond, Brady did not appear at her scheduled trial on the trafficking-in-methamphetamine charge on August 27, 2018. When Brady failed to appear, the circuit court issued a show-cause order to the circuit clerk, the Mobile County sheriff, "and/or" the warden of the Mobile County jail seeking an explanation as to why Brady was released from jail despite the fact that the circuit court had revoked her bond.

         Both the circuit clerk and the warden appeared at a show-cause hearing conducted on September 12, 2018.[1] The warden testified that he never received notice from the circuit clerk's office that Brady's bond had been revoked; therefore, he says, Brady was allowed to leave the county jail when she posted bond approximately five days after the circuit court revoked her bond. The circuit clerk testified that an

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employee in her office had properly entered the circuit court's order revoking Brady's bond before Brady was released from the county jail but that employee apparently failed to send notice of the order to the county jail. The circuit clerk explained that this mistake occurred because she did not have the ability to fully train her employees before giving them the responsibility of managing a circuit judge's docket; ultimately the problem, according to the circuit clerk, was that she did not have adequate funding to retain well trained employees or to hire a sufficient number of employees to allow her office to function as required by law.[2]

         The circuit court submitted several exhibits into evidence at the show-cause hearing. One of those exhibits was a manpower study performed by the Administrative Office of Courts, which noted that, in fiscal year 2016, the clerk's office for the Mobile Circuit Court should have had 57.7 employees based on the caseload of the Mobile Circuit and District Courts.[3] The circuit clerk testified that, as a result of the lack of funding, she had only 38 people working in her office. The circuit clerk further testified that the lack of "reasonable and adequate funding" for her office has had an impact on the public safety of the citizens of Mobile County. As examples, she explained that there had been other times individuals had been inadvertently released from jail and that, in one instance, someone had been wrongfully arrested because an employee in the circuit clerk's office failed to recall a warrant.

         The circuit clerk testified that, pursuant to certain statutes and legislative enactments, she collects certain court costs and fees and then remits a portion of those funds to the State for inclusion in the General Fund.[4] The circuit court introduced another exhibit that indicated that over $7 million in court costs and fees had been collected by the circuit clerk from litigation in Mobile County in fiscal year 2016.[5]

         After questioning by the circuit court, the circuit clerk agreed that her office was "underfunded" and that the lack of funding made it difficult for her and the judges in her circuit to perform their constitutionally required duties. The circuit clerk testified that she had to take certain measures in her office to help her employees perform the duties of the clerk that are required by law. For example, she stated that her employees do not answer telephone calls to the circuit clerk's office until after 2:30 p.m. and that she has to close her entire office for lunch from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.; the circuit clerk testified that those actions have caused the citizens of Mobile County to become very upset when they cannot reach anyone in the circuit clerk's office.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court stated:

"I will take no further action on this show-cause order with respect to the warden of the Mobile County jail, the sheriff, and/or the ... circuit clerk.
"However, this court reserves its right to take further actions regarding funding and the reasonable and necessary

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and adequate funding that is absent from the 13th [Judicial] Circuit."

         Respondent's brief, exhibit A, at 38-39.

         On September 24, 2018, the circuit court entered an order declaring unconstitutional, as applied, Act No. 1992-227, Ala. Acts 1992; Act No. 2004-636, Ala. Acts 2004; Act No. 2010-438, Ala. Acts 2010; Act No. 2012-535, Ala. Acts 2012; Act No. 2013-193, Ala. Acts 2013; and §§ 12-19-72 and 32-5A-191, Ala. Code 1975, "and any other Alabama act or statute that requires the ... circuit clerk to remit costs collected in Mobile County — from litigation taking place in Mobile County — to the state general fund." Petition, exhibit 1. The order specified that those statutes and acts are unconstitutional as applied to "the citizens of Mobile County."

         The circuit court found that the office of the circuit clerk was not reasonably or adequately funded; that court costs and fees collected from litigation in Mobile County generated more than $7 million in revenue for the State; that the circuit clerk "is in imminent danger of not fulfilling her constitutional and statutory duties to support" the circuit and district courts in the 13th Judicial Circuit; that the constitutional requirement of reasonable and adequate financing for the court system encompasses various administrative costs necessary to deliver constitutionally mandated judicial services; that, because the circuit clerk's office is not reasonably and adequately funded, the constitutional rights of all litigants in the 13th Judicial Circuit are in jeopardy; that, because the circuit clerk's office is not reasonably and adequately funded, an individual who is a danger to the citizens of Mobile County was inadvertently released from jail; and that

"[a]ny statute or act that charges litigants in Mobile County ... any fee involving litigation, which then takes said funds away from this county leaving the [circuit] clerk and her staff underfunded, thereby causing the inadvertent release of someone who is a danger and a threat of harm to ...

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