Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

County court judges ordered to testify in bail bond lawsuit

This seems like a big deal.

Lawyers behind the civil rights case that upended the bail system for low-level offenses in Harris County have asked a federal judge to consider sanctioning sitting county judges, citing grave concerns that the county withheld evidence.

The controversy will likely come to head on Tuesday in an unusual federal court hearing in which all the judges in the bail lawsuit have been ordered to attend to sort out the dispute.

The attorneys in a class-action lawsuit brought by indigent defendants wrote the judge Wednesday to highlight “deeply troubling revelations” unearthed after the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued rare sanctions issued to three county magistrates. On Jan. 10, the state admonished the trio for failing to follow the law and use discretion in granting personal bonds.

The conflict erupted after magistrates Joseph Licata III, Jill Wallace and Eric Hagstette told the commission they were acting under direction of the county judges, following rules that restricted them from granting cash-free bonds. They said they felt pressured to comply with these rules the judges provided.

This testimony appears to contradict what judges said under oath during a March hearing in federal court, according to attorneys for indigent defendants in the landmark bail case letter.

Throughout the injunction hearing, judges repeatedly said they never provided instructions to hearing officers about bail matters and magistrates had full reign to issue personal bonds.

There’s more, so go read the rest. I can’t wait to see what happens at Tuesday’s hearing. If the evidence here is credible, then among other things the 15 Republican judges on the misdemeanor court benches (*) don’t just deserve to be voted out, they deserve to be sanctioned like the magistrates were. Hold onto your hats. Mark Bennett has more.

(*) -The one Democratic judge on the misdemeanor courts, Darrell Jordan, has testified for the plaintiffs and as far as I can tell is not subject to this motion.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

27 Comments

  1. I sure wish the Federal Judge cared about all the crime the people on free bonds have committed. I also wish she cared about how many people get out on free bonds and just don’t show up to court. I wish she cared about Crime.

    I wish the Texas Senate wasn’t going to pass more reforms for free bail. I wish Senators would stop running commercials that they are tough on crime and pro-police when they are for free bonds.

    I wish I would have never voted for Bush. The hypocrisy of the Republican leadership is sickening.

  2. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    Out of curiosity, Paul, do you have some evidence that suggests that people awaiting trial are more likely to commit crimes if they’re out on Recognizance than they are if they’re out on a bond?

    Does Harris County have no resources for supervision of people awaiting trial? Some sort of “pretrial services” agency, for example? We could put them in the empty space on the twelfth floor of 1201 Franklin.

  3. Yes, I do. We will come out with that information before the legislature meets. It is all public information. We got it from Chris Daniels.

    As far as pretrial services to supervise people waiting for trial. You are correct they do not have the resources to monitor the people. That is why they are not showing up to court.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    What’s happening at the courthouse seems like a microcosm of what’s happening in D.C. We have elevated the rights of criminals above the rights of law abiding American citizens. 40% of these people don’t show up to answer the charges against them, and why should they? Zero skin in the game, so hey, just roll on racking up crimes until the popo catches you again for something else.

    If it’s your first time in trouble, I think many people would be sympathetic to PR. If you’ve had multiple go-rounds with the legal system, then even if you showed up each time, maybe you need some skin in the game to be let out this time, especially if you’ve racked up several previous convictions. You should be paying money not just to prove you’ll show up, but also to show you are serious about not committing new crimes while you are out on bail. I think this is the study Paul is referring to.

    I mean, sorry to trouble you frequent flyers, but maybe the law abiding public should get some cash assurance from you that you won’t victimize anyone while you are awaiting trial.

  5. People arrested on DWI are not being released without interlock systems? Where are the tough on crime Republicans? Where is the Senate? Where is MADD?

    We will show you a guy that was released on a PR bond and went out and committed intoxicated manslaughter. Good job Judge Rosenthal.

  6. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    I thought the go-to solution to accused individuals being a likely danger to the community was to remand them to custody pending trial. Bond is to ensure that the person shows up for trial, not to prevent them from committing crimes while awaiting trial.

    If data on the risks of PR versus bonded release are so simple and compelling, have they been presented to the court? The Lege isn’t currently scheduled to meet until next year.

  7. Paul Kubosh says:

    They didn’t have the data until the Judge made the ruling creating circumstances that created the Data.

    Now it’s on appeal and time to introduce evidence has passed.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    “They didn’t have the data until the Judge made the ruling creating circumstances that created the Data.”

    “We Have to Pass the Bill So That You Can Find Out What Is In It.”

  9. Steve Houston says:

    If only we had a few years of data to work with and had some way to control for the elephant in the room, the whole Hurricane Harvey fiasco where courts were closed for days on end and then scattered throughout the area with nobody able to tell folks if a court was open or closed until the last minute. Unfortunately, life isn’t perfect like that and various changes in the process make it hard to compare apples to apples when making policy decisions.

    For the most part, I’m one of those Bill mentioned that is sympathetic to the first time offenders getting PR bonds for most misdemeanors. Before the court challenge few received such bonds locally, especially compared to other jurisdictions, and that makes no sense. But the new process doesn’t seem to factor in the frequent fliers and that makes no sense either, people proven to be unlikely to show up have given ample evidence that they need more “skin in the game” than just warrants being issued.

    And the ability to find a few examples of local Willie Horton’s aside (ie: someone who commits terrible crimes while out on a bond of any sort) is a given since the sheer volume of offenders is incredible. No amount of financial bond is going to completely prevent the possibility of this just as no interlock device is going to prevent an accused drunk driver from simply borrowing someone else’s car or having a passenger blow into it. So automatically releasing everyone accused on a PR bond isn’t a good answer, nor is locking them up until trial many months later or punishing them in a dozen ways merely to posture for election as someone “tough on crime” but there isn’t an answer that will appeal to everyone. If they want to campaign as tough on crime, let them make sure convicted criminals serve their time day for day, but treating anyone accused of a crime harshly isn’t being tough on crime, it’s being tough on everyone.

  10. Ross says:

    Maybe bonds could be set using data like, say, how much the defendant can afford. So, a guy making $200k per year can afford the $5000 bail, while the minimum wage guy should have bail set at $500. But, that would require that judges think, which is hard work(I assume most judges are either lazy or stupid, why else would they give up the big money being a lawyer with clients). It is patently stupid to set the same bail for both defendants I mentioned above. The well off guy will pay cash bail, and not lose any to the bail bonds folks, while the other will give up at least $500 they can’t afford.

  11. Steve Houston says:

    Ross, you said it yourself, basing it on data regarding how much they can afford and then pointing out that the “minimum wage guy” can’t afford the $500. If it’s unconstitutional to set bail based on amounts people can’t afford, how can those who are out of work or barely making it be given any amount of monetary bail? Should they get a free pass no matter what? That doesn’t make sense.

  12. C.L. says:

    @Ross…. you lost me when you made a biblical-sized assumption re: the physical or mental capability of judges and/or their love of money. Everything after that was Charlie Brown’s teacher.

  13. Ross says:

    @CL, that’s the only explanation I have for the stupid crap a number of Texas judges do. Like ordering magistrates to set money bail when it’s unconstitutional, then fighting against court ordered changes with a pile of taxpayer money.

    @Steve, what is the purpose of bail? Is it to get people to show up for court, or to punish them for being poor. Maybe a $5 bail is appropriate for someone very poor. It sure isn’t the amounts set by rote from a printed sheet of paper.

  14. Bill Daniels says:

    Ross:

    What is the purpose of remand? It’s to keep society safe from a probable predator. Don’t you think there needs to be something in between PR bond and remand, to try and protect the public from probable predators? A history of legal trouble is an indicator of a predator, and if it takes keeping frequent fliers in jail because they can’t bail out, then I’m OK with that.

    Is it your first time in trouble? OK, you get PR. Second? Well, maybe, but I’m taking a much harder look. 3rd? 4th? 5th? More? Who is protecting society? The court system, like Christianity, isn’t supposed to be a suicide pact.

  15. Steven in Houston,

    “If it’s unconstitutional to set bail based on amounts people can’t afford”,

    It is not unconstitutional….for instance the “no bond” on a Capital Murder charge. Or how about the multi-million dollar bond on the Mom and Dad in California who had all the kids. They can’t afford it so what does the Federal Judge do?

    So do you give a PR bond for someone you are pretty sure will never show up to court? That is what is happening now. So what is the solution?

    Remember: “Control the peoples hate and you control the people” Hitler circa 1935.

  16. “It sure isn’t the amounts set by rote from a printed sheet of paper.”

    agreed.

  17. Steve Houston says:

    Paul, the lawsuit is regarding misdemeanors in the Harris County courts, not capital murder felonies or California. Beside that, providing a bond schedule list with no regard to the defendant’s means to pay is what’s in question here. Given the misdemeanor bond hearings have long been an assembly line process, exactly how do they determine defendants are “pretty sure” not to show up, especially first time offenders? If they have crystal balls, tarot cards, or can otherwise predict the future with absolute clarity, that’s fine and dandy but I suspect it’s not the case.

    Don’t misunderstand me, my concern is the former system was so bad that we ended up warehousing thousands of people for months prior to conviction, many feeling pressured to cop a plea by their court appointed hack not out of guilt but because they’d get out sooner. Then the process became just as foolish in the other direction, letting everyone out without regard to whether they would show up or not, and that hasn’t worked very well either. The middle road is to blow off the automatic bond schedules and the “everyone goes free” approach to sponsor a true assessment system where various factors can be considered; a first time offender with a steady job, steady residence, and family ties is much more likely to come back to court than someone having an extensive criminal history, extensive warrants for not showing up, etc. Instead, defendants had hearings lasting maybe a minute where they weren’t allowed to speak, not the kind of treatment any of us would consider fair if we were on the hot seat. But if a magistrate can articulate how they arrived at being “pretty sure” someone wouldn’t come back in the bulk of cases, by all means let them explain it in federal court.

  18. Paul Kubosh says:

    Hey Steven my comments were limited to your statement I put in quotes. It was clearly wrong. So take a chill pill. Free bonds are coming so you should be happy.

  19. Steve Houston says:

    PK, I don’t advocate free bonds for everyone and never have. I read the ~200 page court opinion and clearly those who stand to profit directly didn’t like it one bit but they recognized either extreme was a faulty path to take. But consider me chilled as I can disagree with someone and not get grumpy about it (and notice how I didn’t jump in the residency thread, that was just for you…lol).

  20. Paul Kubosh says:

    You are as grumpy as they get. Let me say it for you. Steven in Houston doesn’t think Mike Kubosh should be a city council man because he doesn’t think Mike Kubosh lives in the city.

    Your not doing me any favors by not posting negative things about me or my family.

    I get so much negativity on a daily basis it doesn’t matter.

    I still say you should have the guts to come out with your real name. Easy to be cocky behind a mask.

  21. Bill Daniels says:

    Paul,

    There are plenty of libertarian minded people who still consider your family heros, for leading the charge to rid Houston of Bill White’s red light cameras. We remember.

    Full disclosure: Never received a red light camera ticket, but I was inconvenienced by having to use alternate routes to avoid them.

  22. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    I never received a red light through the strange practice of not running red lights.

    That’s, of course, separate from the question of whether enforcement through cameras and civil citations is appropriate or legal, and from the question of how conditions of release should be decided should someone who received such a citation failed to appear and had a criminal arrest warrant issued.

  23. Bill Daniels says:

    Robbie,

    The whole point was the CoH made the tickets civil penalties, not criminal, and thus, there were no criminal penalties attached to not paying. All the city had was overt threats that they never made good on.

    CoH: “We will prevent you from renewing your car tag until you pay.”

    County: “Uh, no. Motorists have cash, we are going to collect it and sell them a license plate sticker. Take your problems elsewhere.”

    CoH: “Well, well, we will pay the credit bureaus to list your non payment and screw up your credit.”

    Still waiting on that.

    CoH: “We will sue you in civil court.”

    Yeah, waiting on that, too. In civil court, defendants get a jury of their peers, not an “administrative law judge.” Turns out every day people don’t LIKE extortion.

  24. Thanks Bill and you are right. What people don’t understand is that you have more rights to defend yourself it is criminal. If it is civil you have no rights.

  25. C.L. says:

    F me, we’re back talking about red light cameras again ? Thanks, Paul and Bill. And seriously Paul ? Steve Houston’s opinion is invalid because somehow you think he doesn’t believe your brother lives in the City of Houston ? That’s POTUS-level deflection.

  26. Bill Daniels says:

    @C.L.:

    Sorry for beating a dead horse. Now, how about that firing of Darian Ward today? Just saw Paul’s brother on the news supporting the firing. Maybe we have finally found something that all of Kuff’s readers can agree on?

  27. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    Thanks for the elaboration, Bill, but honestly I wasn’t being ironic when I separated my avoidance of red light tickets from the legality of the cameras and civil enforcement. I don’t get criminal citations for running red lights either, largely due to my not running them (and not being in a demographic that tends to accrue BS traffic citations).