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Harris County bail order halted

Very late in the day on Friday.

A federal appeals court granted Harris County a last-minute reprieve Friday in a contentious civil rights lawsuit, calling a temporary halt to a judge’s order that would have altered the way cash bail is handled for hundreds of people jailed on misdemeanor charges.

In an order posted after the courthouse closed Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the request of the county’s teams of lawyers to stop the order – set to take effect Monday – until the appeals court can further review the matter.

A three-judge panel of the court notes the temporary halt to the order was issued “in light of the lack of time before the district court’s injunction will take effect and in order to allow full consideration of the following motions and any responses thereto.”

First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said the ruling will give the court time to fully consider the issues.

“The county attorney is pleased that the 5th Circuit has granted the stay to give us more time to work toward a settlement that is in the interest of all the people of Harris County,” he said late Friday. “They said, ‘Let’s just stop a minute.'”

Neal Manne, who is among the lawyers representing the inmates, said he respects the temporary ruling.

“We have great confidence that Judge Rosenthal’s decision and injunction will eventually be upheld,” he said.

Criminal Court at Law Judge Darrell Jordan – who was the only judge who did not want to appeal the decision – was disappointed with the appeals court decision.

“I don’t know why we’re still fighting this,” he said. “Millions of dollars of Harris County money is going to be wasted.”

As you know, I agree entirely with that sentiment. I had also drafted and prepared a longer post on Friday on the assumption that the Fifth Circuit would not halt Judge Rosenthal’s order. I saw this story before I went to bed and took this post off the schedule for yesterday, swearing under my breath about the late change. In the interest of not throwing away what I had already written, I’ve got that post beneath the fold. This is what I would have run if the Fifth Circuit hadn’t intervened. I have faith that once they do have a hearing they will reverse themselves, but until then we wait.

Better get cracking on a plan to start releasing inmates.

A federal judge in Houston has denied a request by Harris County officials to delay the start date of a court order that eliminates cash bail for poor people arrested on low-level charges who can’t afford to post bail.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal denied the county’s motion to stay her order, leading to an expedited appeal by the county expected to be filed Friday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

[…]

Rosenthal weighed the request for a stay based on who faced the “greater harm” if she granted it: The 15 Criminal Court at Law judges and five hearing officers who asked for the delay or the inmates being held on bail rates they couldn’t pay.

She explained in her order Thursday that the misdemeanor defendants stuck in jail while awaiting trial would suffer greater harm than the county in implementing a new bail system.

She explained she found “that overwhelming credible evidence established that Harris County has a policy of routinely and systematically detaining indigent misdemeanor defendants before trial on secured money bail that the defendants clearly cannot pay because of their indigence, without procedural protections.”

See here and here for the background. The Press quotes from Judge Rosenthal’s ruling, and I recommend you read it. The arguments being made by the county’s high-priced outside attorneys are not very compelling.

Which isn’t stopping the county from taking one more shot at not having to comply with this order.

Harris County asked a federal appeals court Friday for an emergency halt to judge’s order that would alter the way cash bail is handled for hundreds of people jailed on misdemeanor charges.

The request from Harris County’s team of lawyers asks the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to decide by Monday – when the order is set to take effect – whether the county should be allowed with continue with its current bail system while a contentious lawsuit proceeds through the courts.

“The injunction jeopardizes public safety—the harm is real and imminent,” the lawyers argued in the 11th-hour filing just before noon Friday.

The county asks the appeals court to either overturn the injunction or temporarily halt action if the court needs more time to evaluate the merits of the case.

I hope the Fifth Circuit gives this a quick back-of-the-hand. In the meantime, Sheriff Ed Gonzales is ready to move on.

Unless an appeals court temporarily halts the judge’s order in the next few days, Gonzalez said he and his staff are ready to enact the changes, which he supports.

“The judge did a very thorough and extensive job, and I think it’s time to move forward,” Gonzalez said. “It’s still a work in progress, but I’m confident that we can execute this.”

Gonzalez filed court documents asking Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal for an emergency hearing to iron out potential kinks in her April 28 order. The judge responded instead with a rare “clarification” order addressing his concerns point-by-point, explaining that the sheriff has broad authority to handle needed paperwork to get indigent defendants out of jail if they meet the criteria for release and can’t afford cash bail.

[…]

Gonzalez was joined by District Attorney Kim Ogg in filing court documents Wednesday, spelling out their opposition to the county’s decision to appeal the order.

“Liberty delayed is not liberty at all,” Ogg wrote.

Ogg said she opposed delaying the order, as well as “any maneuvering that postpones implementation of bail reforms that are more than a half century overdue.”

She said the county’s position that Rosenthal’s recent order requires “significant coordination” is overstated, noting that her office trained all departments months ago to request unsecured bonds in most misdemeanor cases.

So the Sheriff is ready to comply. The District Attorney is ready to comply. At least one of the misdemeanor court judges is ready to comply. Why is the county – in particular, Commissioners Court and the other misdemeanor court judges – still fighting this?

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