Judge approves hot checks case settlement

(AP) - A federal judge has approved a settlement involving a
city in central Arkansas and a local judge who have agreed to change the way they handle suspects charged with writing bad checks to address accusations they were effectively operating a debtors' prison that imposed hefty fines and jail time.U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. approved the agreement Tuesday and dismissed a case involving the city of Sherwood and District Court Judge Milas "Butch" Hale over the hot check cases.

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of five residents. The lawsuit was dismissed on procedural grounds in June, but the groups had asked the federal judge to reconsider that ruling.

The settlement calls for individualized evaluations of a defendant's ability to pay and the use of community service to pay fines.

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