Bankruptcy Lawyer Bryan W. Stone answers the question: “Does Bankruptcy stop foreclosure?”
The Orange County probation department received a “scolding” this week from a federal court for hounding a California mother into bankruptcy and beyond to pay the $16,000 it said she owed them for incarcerating her son in a juvenile detention facility.
California’s daily juvenile detention fees are set at $23.90, and the state allows, but does not mandate, the court system to collect the amounts from the juvenile’s family. Maria Rivera’s son was incarcerated for over a year between 2008 and 2010. The charges on which he was held are unclear because juvenile records are sealed.
Rivera sold her home in May 2010 in order to pay the county $9,508, which she did. Then, however, Orange County hiked the remaining $6,864 she owed to $9,905. The county attorney couldn’t explain this hike to the federal judge recently reviewing the case, who slammed the inexplicable increase as “highly questionable.”
As a result of the charges, Rivera filed for bankruptcy in September 2011. Bankruptcy protection is supposed to give a debtor a “fresh start” from their debts after liquidating or reorganizing their remaining assets to pay off creditors. However, Orange County’s collection pursuit against the mother didn’t stop there. The probation department threatened to pursue her in court or take away her driver’s license, so she reopened her bankruptcy case and asked the court to sanction Orange County for its actions.
Her bankruptcy judge ruled in the county’s favor, citing state law that allows government agencies to pursue debts for child support and alimony payments through bankruptcy. The appellate court overturned that ruling.
Alimony and child support payments are pursuable in bankruptcy because they seek to provide children with a wholesome upbringing. The best interests of a child rank above other debts dischargeable in bankruptcy, and are typically exempt from bankruptcy for that reason.
The financial charges relating to Rivera’s son, in contrast, stem from the government punishing him. The judge said that they impeded Rivera’s ability to provide her son with future financial support, ruling that the mother did not have to pay the remaining money the county said she owed. The judge admonished the Orange County Probation Department in his ruling, adding that pursuing legal action against disadvantaged members of society was counterproductive at best and had a damaging effect on the overall community.
Orange County has said it will not appeal the ruling because it will not apply to many other cases.
Charging former inmates or their families for time spent in jail is unfortunately not uncommon, however, particularly in juvenile cases. Because minors are legally entitled to education, treatment and other programs not required for adults, housing juveniles in detention facilities and handling their probation is significantly more costly. CNN has covered numerous cases of recently-released inmates being hit with astronomical bills to the tune of thousands of dollars after serving their time. Oftentimes the “incarceration liens” don’t become an issue until former inmates sue the facilities for violations of their rights within the facilities. Others, like Rivera’s, are hit with the bill with no warning.
These types of fees that charge inmates for their forced room and board are authorized in at least 43 states. In some states the fee payment is conditioned on the inmate’s ability to pay, but others employ aggressive collection tactics like those used against Rivera regardless. It may take more than a scolding from a judge for similar tactics to cease country-wide.
If you are contemplating bankruptcy in the Charlotte area, please call the skilled lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC find additional resources here. As professionals who are experienced at handling all kinds of bankruptcy matters, our attorneys will provide you with legally sound advice for your particular situation.
About the Author
Kyle Frost joined Arnold & Smith, PLLC in 2013 where he focuses his practice on all aspects of civil litigation and bankruptcy, including: Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 13, home loan modifications and landlord-tenant issues.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Mr. Frost attended the University at Albany on a Presidential Scholarship, graduating magna cum laude with a double major in Political Science and Sociology. He went on to attended Wake Forest University School of Law in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
Following college, Mr. Frost spent over a year teaching English in South Korea. He worked in a private school in Seoul developing curriculum, English programs, and educating both children and adults that were interested in learning a new language.
In his spare time, Mr. Frost enjoys homebrewing, fishing, and travelling.
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