"We're still evaluating what it means for the portion of the case that's left, but we're pleased the Court of Appeals found the Standing Bail Order entirely constitutional," said Andy Davis, a partner with the Rome law firm Brinson Askew Berry.
The case, Walker v. Calhoun, has garnered national attention due to its potential to set precedent on Fourteenth Amendment rights of due process and equal protection for indigent defendants.
Calhoun officials hired the Rome firm in 2015 to defend against a class action suit brought by the Southern Center for Human Rights on behalf of Maurice Walker, who spent six days in jail awaiting a hearing because he couldn't afford to post a $160 bond.
At that time, the city had a fixed bail schedule for traffic and misdemeanor offenses. Those who could pay were immediately released, those who couldn't were held for their court date.
After the lawsuit was filed, the city adopted a Standing Bail Order that set bond amounts according to the offense. It also guaranteed a hearing within 48 hours for indigent defendants asking to be released on their own recognizance.
The SCHR won injunctions against both policies as the case wended its way through the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Each time, Calhoun appealed.
A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2 to 1 Wednesday that the first policy is unconstitutional, the second is not.
"The crux of the case was if the bail system is legal," Davis said, adding that "friend of the court" briefs supporting Calhoun had been filed on behalf of groups representing sheriffs and bail bondsmen.
The dissenting judge wrote that she would have upheld the injunction against the Standing Bail Order until Calhoun could show why it needs to hold people with little or no resources for two days.
"It seems unremarkable to say that being jailed for 48 hours is more than a mere inconvenience," Judge Beverly B. Martin wrote.
Walker, whom his attorney said is schizophrenic, was arrested Sept. 3, 2015, on a charge of pedestrian under the influence. Due to the Labor Day holiday, his case was not due to be heard until Sept. 11, but officials released him Sept. 9 after the suit was filed.
Davis said the case now moves back to the district court, where Walker is seeking damages for the time he spent in jail.