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For Leann Banderman, “case closed” might be the two most beautiful words in the English language.
That is the ending that Dent County Circuit Judge Kelly Parker wrote last week to Banderman’s three-year battle with the law.
It started at a Walmart in Salem in early 2016. Banderman stole some nail polish. Former Associate Circuit Judge Brandi Baird sentenced her to 30 days in jail. Then she got the jail board bill for $1,400, and Baird required her to show up monthly to make payments or face the threat of more jail. A year later, she spent nearly two more months in jail because she missed one of those hearings and couldn’t afford to make her payments. She got a new bill for $2,100.
This is the cycle of debtors prison that the Missouri Supreme Court sought to end with its unanimous decision last month in two cases that mirror Banderman’s. In the cases of George Richey and John Wright, the court said that judges cannot threaten defendants with more jail time over an inability to pay jail board bills. Those bills, if unpaid, must be sent to the Office of State Courts Administrator, the court said, where they could be collected civilly through income tax intercepts.