May 6, 2012

Oakland County errors make least egregious sex offenders look like predators, suit says

5-6-2012 Michigan:

A Chicago man filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Oakland County officials, saying they have been miscoding sex offender conviction records for at least 10 years, making the least egregious offenders look like predators.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jason Zdebski, 35, who says the practice caused him to be charged criminally with failing to register as a sex offender in Illinois. He said the coding also cost him his job as general manager of a restaurant and caused him to be publicly branded as a child molester and shunned by his neighbors.

"This guy's life has been turned upside down because of a computer programming error," his lawyer, Jonathan Marko of Royal Oak, said Thursday. He said the problem may affect hundreds of other defendants convicted of the least serious sex offenses.

There was no immediate comment from Oakland County Clerk Bill Bullard Jr., who was named as a defendant in the suit. The Oakland County Prosecutor's Office, which also was named as a defendant, said it is investigating the situation.

Marko and co-counsel Rachel Wisley said Zdebski pleaded no contest in Oakland County Circuit Court in 2003 to exposing himself to an undercover cop and was sentenced to six months of probation.

In 2006, he moved to Chicago and, within three days, notified police about the conviction to find out whether he needed to register as a sex offender.

After providing police with the details about the conviction, he was told he didn't need to register, the suit said.

In 2010, federal marshals showed up on his doorstep and arrested him on a charge of failing to register as a sex offender.

At a court hearing, Zdebski said, he was shocked when the prosecutor called him a child molester and asked for a $125,000 bond, which the judge granted.

Zdebski eventually contacted Marko, who petitioned Oakland County Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot to correct the problem.

But before he got a chance to speak at a hearing Wednesday, Marko said, a prosecutor acknowledged the problem and Chabot ordered that the issue be corrected.

After the hearing, Chabot's clerk re-entered the proper conviction code for Zdebski. This time around, Marko said, the description that went with the code identified Zdebski as someone who had sexual relations with an incapacitated person.

"We couldn't believe it," said Marko, who is seeking class-action status in the suit.

He said he left the courthouse with assurances that the prosecutor's office would look into the problem and fix it.

"This was a perfect storm of events," Marko said. "If the clerk hadn't re-entered the conviction code while I was standing there, I'd be getting a call from my client in six months demanding to know what I had done.

"He's having to pay legal fees in Illinois and Michigan for something that was never his fault," Marko said.

Until the problem is corrected, Zdebski, who now works as a bartender, can't resolve the failing to register charge in Chicago.

The suit accuses Bullard and Prosecutor Jessica Cooper of violating Zdebski's constitutional rights.

It asks U.S. District Judge Sean Cox to certify the case as a class action, order county officials to fix the problem and compensate Zdebski and others affected by the foul-up to be compensated for emotional distress. ..Source.. by David Ashenfelter

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