Unlawful Fees and Fines

Filed - December 5, 2017

Nelson v. Constant


The City of Gretna, Louisiana has no separate judicial branch. Instead, violations of the Gretna Municipal Code come before the Mayor’s Court, which is completely under the control of Gretna’s Mayor, Belinda C. Constant.

The MacArthur Justice Center has filed a federal class action contending that the City of Gretna over-enforces traffic regulations and excessively charges nonviolent misdemeanor offenses to fund the Court and City’s budget and that the Mayor’s Court is fundamentally tainted by conflict of interest.

The Gretna Police Department maintains a quota of arrests and citations, with the express purpose of generating revenue. Individuals come before the court only with petty citations, imposed for their fee-generating potential. These individuals are then prosecuted by an employee of the Mayor in a court overseen by an employee of the Mayor and then made to pay a fee, collected by the Police Department at the direction of the Mayor, in order help fund the same system and its actors. The only diversion program is under the sole discretion of the Mayor-appointed Prosecutor.

While Gretna’s residents are being saddled with criminal charges and mounting debt, the Mayor’s Court budget has tripled.

Between 2000 – 2014, Mayor’s Court arrests increased by over 480%, despite a simultaneous decrease in violent crimes.

65.8% of the arrests were of Black residents (Yet only 35% of Gretna’s population is Black).

By 2015, an average of 1 in 2 households contained an individual with criminal charges