Clifford Hall, the Texas man who went to jail even after overpaying child support debt that was caused by a clerical error, has been released from prison, his lawyer, Tyesha Elam, confirmed to The Root.
Hall was released on July 2 after an associate judge suspended the sentence during a routine jail review hearing. He had been held in contempt for late payments.
“When you go to jail on contempt, you are entitled to a jail review hearing where they look at the situation and see how close you are to complying,” Elam explained, adding that contempt isn’t a conviction but more of a coercion to comply. “In Cliff’s case, he was all paid up, there was nothing more he could do to comply, so the associate judge [ordered his release].”
The release, Elam pointed out, didn’t seem to gain as much media attention as news of the original legal proceedings, in which the dad turned himself in on charges of falling behind on child support.
His falling behind was not even due to his own transgression but, rather, was caused by a clerical error in his paycheck by his employer. The payments were supposed to come out of his check automatically, but it was discovered that the payments were being withdrawn only sporadically. Hall racked up an impressive bill that forced him to pay almost $3,000 in past-due payments.
“I think that the reason why there was no media frenzy, if you will … [is that] there’s a desire here to sweep it under the rug because of the seriousness of the change in the law and the seriousness of the problem,” Elam, who has been working to change the law, told The Root. “I think that there’s a concerted effort here in Texas to kind of dim the damage … so when we do fix the problem … it won’t be so highly publicized that there even was a problem.”
The problem, as she explained to The Root last month, lies in a law passed back in June 2013 that repeals protections for parents paying child support who may fall behind. Before, if you paid in full after falling behind, there was usually no problem. However, after the statute was passed, that all changed. The law, in Elam’s view, was designed to target deadbeats who willfully fell behind and used the protections to their benefit. Now, however, it catches all parents with late payments in its dragnet.
But there is some good news: Hall was released just as he was due to have a full month with his son. “He was entitled on July 1 to his son for the month of July, so when he was released, the first thing he did was pick up his son, and they’ve been together all month long. That’s the best part of it,” Elam said.
Still, it’s not over for Hall. The suspended sentence means that he still has the weight of prison hanging over him if he should slip up. Elam is hoping to vacate the order soon, calling that goal “imperative,” as she continues to work to eradicate the problematic law.
“I’m encouraging people to write our U.S. attorney and let him know that they don’t want this happening in their state; [that] they don’t want this type of law to spread and that they don’t want paid-up people going to jail,” she said. “I just want our U.S. attorney to be encouraged to get involved to make sure that this law is addressed and it doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.