By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said Thursday that suspended Municipal Court judge Lester Hayes had been “disadvantaged” by his suspension from the bench for locking up indigent defendants, which was one reason the City of Montgomery signed Hayes to a consulting contract.
“He couldn’t work as a judge, he couldn’t work as an attorney – he was really disadvantaged in that way,” Strange said. “So, we thought we could give him an opportunity to help us with some of our legal work.”
Strange and the city have provided Hayes with a $6,500-per-month contract to work with the city’s legal division – although, not as an attorney, Strang noted several times – and to aid Montgomery’s office of City Investigations, which investigates complaints against police officers.
Since APR broke the story late Wednesday of Hayes’ contract with the city, public outcry has been substantial, because it was complaints from the public that eventually resulted in Hayes’ removal from the bench by the Judicial Inquiry Commission.
After years of complaints of indigent defendants being subjected to jail time and absurd charges from private probation services, city officials, including Hayes, who was the presiding judge for Montgomery, were sued by attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Equal Justice Under the Law.
The plaintiff in that suit was a 50-year-old grandmother who couldn’t afford to pay her traffic ticket after losing her job. She was arrested by Montgomery police as she babysat her grandchild and ordered to serve 31 days in jail.
The city eventually reached a settlement in the case, which included sweeping changes for the municipal court system. Hayes was responsible for implementing those changes, though he had little to do with their creation.
Still, Strange gave Hayes credit on Thursday for making the changes and said he had also gone to other cities and talked to them about making similar changes.
Asked if he could understand why people – particularly those who were locked up illegally by Hayes due to their inability to pay – might be angered that he received such a bailout from his punishment, Strange said no.
“He wasn’t suspended from life,” the mayor said. “He still has to work.”