ESCANABA - An Escanaba woman was released from the Delta County Jail Tuesday after serving 28 days on a contempt of court charge. The American Civil Liberties Union had taken on the woman's case, saying she was jailed for being poor.
Edwina Jean Nowlin, 44, Escanaba, appeared before Delta County Probate Court Judge Robert E. Goebel Jr. Tuesday with her attorney, Karl Numinen, Marquette, to appeal her sentence on contempt of court charges. Numinen had filed a motion before the court asking for the charge to be rescinded.
The contempt of court charge was filed after Nowlin failed to pay $104, as ordered by the court, for her son's detention in Bay Pines Juvenile Detention Facility.
Although Goebel released Nowlin from jail, he did not rescind the contempt of court charge, saying it was valid.
Goebel's ruling, however, does allow for Numinen, on Nowlin's behalf, to file a new motion providing updated financial information which may be used to adjust the monthly amount of support being sought for her son's detention.
Until the new motion is presented to the court and acted upon, Goebel said Nowlin's paycheck will be garnisheed, which could prevent her from showing up in his court in the future for failure to pay.
Goebel set the original amount of $104 a month to be paid by Nowlin was based upon financial information provided by Nowlin to the Delta County Friend of the Court. Staff members in that office, using state child support guidelines, presented the $104 per month as being a reasonable amount she would be able to pay.
When Nowlin failed to pay the court-ordered amount, a show cause hearing was held March 2, with Goebel giving her 24 hours to pay. When she reappeared March 3, saying she could not pay the $104, Goebel found her in contempt of court and ordered her jailed for 30 days.
Nowlin contacted the ACLU of Michigan, according to ACLU legal director Michael Steinberg, after her request for a court-appointed attorney was denied by Goebel during the March 3 hearing.
Numinen was appointed to serve as a cooperating attorney with the ACLU.
Numinen argued the court action was unconstitutional in that the court was attempting to bring back debtor's prisons. The ACLU also argued the court violated Nowlin's rights by denying her request for a court-appointed attorney.
The $104 is just a partial payment. The state incurs a cost of $308.39 per day for treating a juvenile at its facility in Escanaba. The monthly cost incurred for one juvenile held at the facility for one month is $ 9,560.
During Tuesday's proceedings, Numinen said the court had jailed Nowlin for being poor and for being unable to pay the court ordered amount.
"Here is a woman who was laid off in December, and later, working part-time for $7.90 an hour, in addition to working odd jobs to make ends meet," he said.
Numinen said Nowlin had provided the court with a financial affidavit indicating she had been working part-time in March.
"When filing the affidavit, she may have overstated the amount she was being paid per hour. However, there was a note attached to the affidavit indicating that was what she thought she was being paid," said Numinen.
He also said when Nowlin was taken to jail following a hearing March 3, she was scheduled to be paid Friday of that same week.
"When she was released from jail on that Friday to pick up her check as part of her work release, upon her return she was forced to sign over her check to the sheriff's department to pay for her stay in the Delta County Jail," said Numinen.
He said the amount of Nowlin's check that week was $178, of which the sheriff's department took $120 to cover a portion of her expenses while serving the 30-day sentence.
People who are lodged in the Delta County Jail are charged approximately $20 per day for each day they serve in the facility.
Goebel asked Numinen what would have happened if Nowlin had not signed over her paycheck. Numinen said it was unknown what would have transpired if Nowlin hadn't complied.
"The deputy was an authority figure, and when they said to sign over her paycheck she did so," said Numinen.
Goebel then asked if the deputy or sheriff had pointed their sidearm at her to get her to comply, with the response being negative.
Numinen said while Nowlin was incarcerated, she was required to submit to drug testing as part of her work release.
She was charged $10 for each drug test conducted as part of her work release.
"We are fearful the court may require new contempt of court hearings when Ms. Nowlin again finds herself unable to pay the court ordered fees," said Numinen.
Nowlin took the stand during the hearing.
During her testimony, Nowlin said she operated a quilting machine at Clare Bedding, and her hours varied depending upon the number of orders received.
"If demand was high there were extra hours; when demand was down, our hours were cut," she said.
She testified when she appeared for the show cause hearing she informed the court she couldn't afford to pay the ordered $104.
"I didn't ask for an attorney for the show cause hearing; however, I did request a court-appointed attorney when I appeared before the court the following day and was being held in contempt. I requested a court-appointed attorney and was told I couldn't have one and was escorted to jail," said Nowlin.
Numinen summarized Nowlin's incarceration as being the result of being poor.
"Ms. Nowlin should not been treated as a criminal because of her inability to pay," said Numinen.
After hearing Nowlin's testimony, Goebel said the court had extensive involvement with Nowlin and her son, and several attempts had been made by the court to prevent her 15-year old son from ending up at Bay Pines.
According to Goebel, Nowlin's son had an extensive juvenile criminal record with charges ranging from assault and battery to second degree criminal sexual conduct.
Goebel addressed Nowlin during Tuesday's proceeding, saying, "When your son was first placed in juvenile diversion, there was a notion indicating you were concerned about your son heading down the wrong path."
Goebel added a notation in the file indicated Nowlin would be present for all appointments and would be involved fully with the juvenile diversion program along with her son.
"The last appointment which you attended, according to our records, was Oct. 12, 2008," said Goebel.
After court recessed, Numinen said the next step for Nowlin following her release was to go home and spend time with her family.
"Overall, I am pleased with the ruling to release Ms. Nowlin from jail, with steps in place to ensure payments are made to the court to prevent at this time the potential for her to be found once again in contempt for failure to pay," said Numinen.
He also said while the attempt to rescind the original order of contempt was denied, Judge Goebel did invite him, on Nowlin's behalf, to provide to the court new financial information which would more clearly and accurately indicate what she could afford to pay monthly for her son's support while lodged at Bay Pines.