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Endorsement watch: Incumbency is no advantage, part 2

The Chron lays down a marker on the county criminal courts.

Each election cycle we determine our judicial endorsements by interviewing the candidates, researching their backgrounds, consulting with experts and coming to a conclusion about who best would be able to run a courtroom and see that justice is done. This year, however, one piece of evidence outweighed every other consideration for the Harris County criminal courts at law: Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal’s 193-page memorandum declaring the bail system in our misdemeanor courts in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection.

[…]

While some of Judge Rosenthal’s remedies have been altered by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the underlying facts remain undisturbed. Those facts are shocking to the conscience, and should be enough to convince our misdemeanor court judges to work with the plaintiffs suing the county over its unconstitutional practices and reach a settlement. That hasn’t happened. Instead, all the judges except two — one Democrat and one Republican — have spent millions in taxpayer funds fighting the case in court.

In meeting with these judges we heard plenty of reasons why they’re continuing to fight. Some said they believe the plaintiffs’ demands go too far. Others said they want to make sure judges don’t lose discretion in individual cases. A few were worried about the effect on public safety of letting people accused of misdemeanors out of jail without a cash bond. Overall they pointed to the courts’ slow but steady progress and work with the Arnold Foundation in crafting a risk-assessment tool to improve the bail system.

These excuses are not enough to justify the perpetuation of a criminal justice system that Rosenthal says has resulted in “thousands of constitutional violations” of both equal protection and due process.

That is why we recommend that every incumbent judge continuing to fight the bail lawsuit be removed from his or her seat.

We do not make this recommendation lightly. There will be unfortunate consequences that weaken our misdemeanor courts in the short term. Harris County will lose experienced judges. Diversion courts will need new leadership if they are to continue. It’s possible that over the next four years we’ll face different sorts of challenges and scandals in pursuit of a new kind of judiciary. Our star ratings may seem off as we endorse challengers against incumbents with higher scores. But this is about something bigger than individual judges. This is about a criminal justice system in dire need of reform.

The public needs to send a message that we will not tolerate the status quo, one that the judges have been content to live with for too long. The only way to chart a path forward is to remove the current judges — root, branch and all.

A-frickin’-men. There was literally no other moral way for the Chron to handle this, and they did not get it wrong. Good for them. Note that this line in the sand still allowed for them to endorse a decent number of Republicans, as there were multiple incumbent judges who did not run for re-election. Of the 15 misdemeanor races, the Chron picked seven Dems and six Republicans, with one dual endorsement and one non-endorsement. (Yes, even though “the Houston Chronicle editorial board’s policy is to avoid co-endorsements or non-endorsements”. I’ll let it slide this time, but I won’t let it go unmentioned.) You should click over and read the recommendations, but the main thing to know is, don’t vote for anyone who supports the unconstitutional bail system. We have the power to fix this. Let’s not screw that up.

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6 Comments

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    I completely disagree. A lot of crime committed by all of the criminals that got the tax payer bonds. All of the pain caused by the criminal defendants who were let go by the sheriff within 24 hours is on the hands of Judge Rosenthal. Where there is no accountability there is no responsibility. She is just another reason why I don’t like voting for Republicans when I think of her I think of Bush, McCain, and Romney.

    Yes Council Member Michael Kubosh is a Bail Bondsman.

  2. Ross says:

    So, Paul, you are perfectly fine with locking up people for months, despite them being low risk, simply because judges are too lazy and risk averse to make an individual bail determination? How are we better off having defendants lose jobs because they can’t make bail that would be pocket change for you or me? Are we safer with a jail full of pretrial detainees, many of them low risk?

    The judges are morons, wasting our dollars on an issue thst is a loser. The final result will likely be less loose than Rosenthals order, but the set bail schedules are going to be eliminated.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    Ross,

    Would you be OK with detaining people who do NOT have jobs to go to who are repeat criminals, if they can’t make bond? That eliminates anyone who has no prior convictions, as well as anyone with a job.

    Still waiting on somebody to publish the stats on rearrest rates of people let out with no bond. We must have some numbers by now.

  4. Ross, your premise is wrong. We are arresting the same people over and over.

  5. Steve Houston says:

    Paul, wouldn’t a proper risk assessment account for repeat offenders and also comply with the US Constitution?