Walker County State Court Judge Billy Mullinax, in a report by the Chattanooga Times Free Press before Christmas, has been accused charging illegal court costs, a practice that is forbidden by the state constitution:
Judge Billy Mullinax has dismissed at least 47 cases after either the victim or the defendant paid the court costs, a practice that is illegal in Georgia. The specific amount of money paid changed from case to case, court records show, but usually Mullinax charged $138. In the 47 cases pulled from court files, defendants and victims paid the court $8,597.
But, according to Article 1, Section 1, Paragraph 14 of the Georgia Constitution, nobody can be forced to pay money in a criminal case unless that person has been convicted. And, according to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 15-13-35, a prosecutor cannot charge costs in a case if the court did not find the defendant guilty.
“Under Georgia law, courts cannot demand court costs of criminal defendants whose cases are nolle prossed [not prosecuted],” Sarah Geraghty, a senior attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, told the Times Free Press in September when the paper revealed similar tactics in the Chattooga County State Court. “The Georgia Constitution and Georgia Code expressly prohibit courts from collecting costs from a criminal defendant in the absence of the defendant’s conviction.”
Mullinax did not respond to a request for comment after a reporter visited his office and spoke with his assistant Friday. Bill Rhyne Jr., who has served as a temporary solicitor, or state court prosecutor this year while Pat Clements recovered from an illness, also declined to comment.
A similar practice was uncovered in Chattooga County by the same newspaper in September, and the illegal practice in Chattooga County looks to have gone back to 2007. No word on any additional developments from this story of if Judge Mullinax will appear before the Judicial Qualifications Commission on this matter. Judge Mullinax defeated the then-incumbent Bruce Roberts for state court judge in the July 2012 non-partisan general election. Roberts was appointed by Governor Nathan Deal in 2011 following the retirement of long-time judge Donnie Peppers.