BOISE -- There is now a class action lawsuit against the corporation that handles Ada County's misdemeanor probation services. The allegation is thousands of people on probation were illegally overcharged for services, and some were possibly kept on probation longer because they couldn't afford to pay.
For months, attorneys say they've been listening to complaints from probationers and former employees of Ada County Misdemeanor Probation Services. Last week, three of those current or former probationers filed a lawsuit against that private corporation's owner, Nancy Cladis.
By coincidence, the Board of County Commissioners is set to vote on whether to renew its contract with Cladis during a Tuesday morning public meeting.
Class action lawsuit could mean reimbursement for up to 20,000 probationers
Attorney Philip Gordon says Ada County Misdemeanor Probation Services, Inc. (ACMPS) , run by Cladis, is breaking the law by forcing misdemeanor probationers to overpay. The lawsuit also says Cladis is profiting from the charges.
The big problem is that people who are on misdemeanor probation are being charged more than the law allows, one of the plantiffs' attorneys Philip Gordon said. And that money is being collected from them, and in many cases if they don't have it, they're being violated [penalized] for failing to pay everything that it is claimed they owe.
Gordon contends the law caps the maximum amount someone on probation has to pay, and he says that fee includes extras, like drug and alcohol testing. But Gordon says his clients, and likely all misdemeanor probationers, were charged for those things a la carte, as required by the ACMPS.
For example, according to the contract with the county (drafted by the county prosecutor's office), drug and alcohol testing by urinalysis were priced in the county contract at $10 each. Those costs were on top of supervision fees (capped by state law at $75, before July 1 at $50).
As a consequence, up through and including June 30th, every single person on misdemeanor probation was paying more than $50, Gordon said.
Former employee says probationers held longer than necessary
County Commissioner Sharon Ullman says she's always questioned contracting with a private provider. Recently, she's been receiving dozens of complaints.
I have actually met with some folks who've worked for her, and I'm gravely concerned about some of the things they've brought to my attention, and I think an investigation is warranted, Ullman said.
Tina Baird is one of those people. She quit her job as a misdemeanor probation officer at the company a couple weeks ago. She says all clients paid for testing at least three times per month.
Protocol was we had to UA, drug and alcohol test everyone regardless of the crime, Baird said.
She also says Cladis discouraged probationers asking a judge for unsupervised probation, even if it might be allowed in the sentencing agreement.
All the staff were called into her office probably about a month and a half, two months ago, saying that even if the judge writes it on the judgment, we do not support it, Baird said.
To me, it's a function that should be provided by government, Ullman said. There's too much room for problems, such as the accusations that we're hearing now. That there's no incentive to get people off probation. You don't make money if they go off probation.
Commissioner calls for investigation
Ullman says the lawsuit would clear up questions about contract pricing and how much the law allows anyone, private or public, to charge. Further, she says an investigation into the company and its owner would clear up what else might be happening.
I have no idea whether any of those things are true or not. That's why I believe that those allegations need to be investigated so we can find out the truth, Ullman said.
As for the allegations and lawsuit against her, Nancy Cladis declined to comment. Her attorney, David Leroy, said they just got all of the paperwork and they have 20 days to respond to the complaint through the court.
He said over the telephone: All actions that Misdemeanor Probation Services have taken have been consistent with statutes, the court rules and the court orders related to fees.
Contract renewal vote likely to be delayed
On Monday afternoon, Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre anticipated Cladis' contract would be renewed, but later developments in the evening changed that prediction. Commissioner Vernon Bisterfeldt says he's received a memo from the State Public Defender saying it's unconstitutional for them to contract out probation services, that the Idaho Constitution says the Department of Correction must provide all probation and parole services.
Wanting to seek legal advice on that possible violation of state law, as well as the now pending lawsuit, both Yzaguirre and Bisterfeldt say they want to table the matter Tuesday morning, rather than take a vote. Ullman also wants the matter delayed, though she's hoping to get an investigation before a vote.
If they table the vote Tuesday morning, Ullman says the current contract will likely stand until they do vote. Yzaguirre says this is the last year they intend to contract with Cladis and ACMPS. Next October, he says they plan to have the county take over.
Ullman says she'd like the Ada County Sheriff's Office to run the service, and many of the current misdemeanor probation officers could be hired.