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Bail lawsuit settlement outline taking shape

We should have a final version in a couple of weeks.

A proposed settlement in the landmark Harris County bail lawsuit would significantly change how the county treats poor defendants in misdemeanor cases by providing free social and transportation services and relaxing penalties for missed court dates.

The draft deal includes a number of reforms aimed at ensuring poor defendants arrive for court hearings and are not unfairly pressured into guilty pleas. They would, among other changes: require Harris County to provide free child care at courthouses, develop a two-way communication system between courts and defendants, give cell phones to poor defendants and pay for public transit or ride share services for defendants without access to transportation to court.

“I’m not aware of any county, or city the size of Houston… doing those type of innovative things,” said Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor who filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the poor defendants. “Ultimately, the county is going to save so much money by not keeping these people in jail.”

The proffered agreement would require the county to operate at least one night or weekend docket to provide a more convenient opportunity for defendants with family, work and education commitments. Courts would be barred from charging any fees to poor defendants, defined as those earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $25,000 for someone with no dependents.

The proposal also would reduce penalties for missed court dates. A defendant could not be deemed to have failed to appear if he arrived in court on the day assigned, even if he was hours late. Defendants would be allowed to reschedule court appearances for any reason at least two times without negative consequences. Judges only could issue bench warrants 30 days after a missed a court appearance, so long as the court already has attempted to contact the defendant with a rescheduled hearing date.

In addition, judges would be required to permit defendants to skip hearings where their presence is unnecessary, such as routine meetings between prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges that do not involve testimony or fact-finding.

At the heart of the 23-page proposed settlement, a copy of which was obtained by the Houston Chronicle, is the codification of a new bail schedule unveiled by the slate of newly elected of criminal judges in January, under which about 85 percent of people arrested on misdemeanors automatically qualify for release on no-cash bonds.

“Our current goal now is to become the model misdemeanor court system in America,” said Harris County Criminal Court at Law Judge Darrell Jordan, a bail reform advocate and the only Democrat on the misdemeanor bench when the case began. “I think the proposals in the settlement, as far as the wraparound services for misdemeanor defendants, is a great step in that direction.”

[…]

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a statement late Friday stressing that the proposal is preliminary, and could change.

“We’re working well with the plaintiffs to reach an agreement that will provide a model for bail reform around the country while also being feasible for the county to implement,” she said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said he is eager to negotiate a settlement that balances the needs of defendants against those of victims and county taxpayers. He declined to speak to specific provisions in the proposed settlement, but said he has concerns that some may be too expensive or unrealistic.

“I’ll just say there’s a number of things that immediately hit me like, ‘I’m not sure how we’re going to do that,’” Garcia said.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack and Precinct 4’s Jack Cagle panned the proposal, which they said is too broad. The pair of Republicans said it should instead focus on implementing bail rules that ignore a defendant’s ability to pay.

“If my learned colleagues are going to strive for free Uber rides for the accused, I’d strongly advocate we provide the same to victims,” Cagle said.

Just a reminder, for anyone who might be fixating on the Uber rides or childcare aspects of this, the goal here is to get people to show up for their court dates. I would remind you that the alternative to paying for those relatively small things is paying to house, feed, and clothe thousands of people for weeks or months at a time, and that we have been doing exactly that for decades now. And if it’s the Uber thing that’s really sticking in your craw, then I trust you support a robust expansion of our public transit and pedestrian infrastructure so that it’s practical for anyone to take a bus to the courthouse. (Though having said that, if Commissioner Cagle was being sincere and not sarcastic, providing rides to the courthouse for victims who need them seems like a good idea to me.)

Again, just to review. Locking people up who have not been convicted of a crime is (with limited exceptions) wrong. Locking people up who have been arrested on charges that would normally not carry jail time if they were convicted is wrong. Locking people up for technical violations that have nothing to do with the crimes with which they have been charged is wrong. We spend tens of millions of dollars of our tax dollars every year doing these things. This is our chance to spend a whole lot less, and to get better results for it.

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21 Comments

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    Hahahahahaha I think this is great. I hope the settlement is exactly like that. What in the world makes anyone think that if the threat of arrest doesn’t encourage you to go to court what makes you think that a free Uber ride will get you to court.

    People with P.R. bonds miss court at a much higher rate then people on bond. Its a fact. This is just hilarious.

  2. Paul Kubosh says:

    One more thing. I think everyone should get a letter of apology for being inconvenienced for being arrested for committing a crime. No better yet when an officer on the DWI task force catches a drunk driver he should be required to call an uber or taxi to pick up the person. He should then have the car towed to the guys house. That way we don’t arrest him at all. There should be no consequences for committing a crime. We all know that the people we are talking about are Deacons in the Church, Managers at Wal-Mart, students in M.B.A. programs. Its not their fault they were arrested.

  3. Jules says:

    Paul, I’ve seen you post the stats in how many people on PR bonds don’t show up, it is high. Where does that stat come from?

  4. Jules says:

    https://www.texastribune.org/2017/11/29/heres-whats-happening-harris-county-now-sheriff-issues-bail-bonds/

    I found this article. Says 45% don’t show for sheriff bonds and 26% for judicial bonds. Some are still being processed and some are given wrong dates, does not say how many. Seems like the sheriff could work on the process to improve that number.

  5. Jules says:

    That’s pr bonds for both numbers. Did not have cash bond numbers in the article to compare.

  6. Paul Kubosh says:

    Jules, the numbers are real. Everyone knows that. No one cares. No responsibility is the name of the game. Can’t wait until Kuffner posts about the Dallas D.A.’s new policy on theft.

  7. Manny says:

    if the numbers are real than their is data to support your claim Paul. Where is the data, provided a link.

    As to the facebook post, that is typical of Trump supporters, aka Republicans, that they use on example to claim that it applies to all. If he had posted a bond, would it make a difference?

    Your claim is that poor people are evil and should not be given the benefit of the doubt.

    In fact Paul there is more to the story than just a facebook video. One judge made the decision, it was not a policy.

    When will Trump supporters, misstate facts to try to prove a point.

    https://www.khou.com/article/news/crime/pasadena-police-chief-furious-after-repeat-armed-robbery-suspect-released-twice-by-same-judge/285-6a331e7c-9aac-4080-9acc-c34ef15fef5d

    Your claim is that people of color are evil and bad people and should not be given the benefit of the doubt.

    I guess I could make a claim that all white males that are between 50 and 70 are mass murders, ha ha ha ha ha ha, I think that is great. I am not gloating I am showing you what you did. It is not great nor is it something to laugh about.

    https://youtu.be/ih5_5-LtPP4

  8. Jules says:

    Paul, I think that people shouldn’t be locked up pre-trial just because they’re poor and I think they should show up for court. It seems like the sheriff has procedural issues that can be addressed – people need to know when and where their court dates are.

    On the free Uber thing, not sure how much that would help, but the locked up people do get a ride to court, as well as room and board and a stripey orange and white outfit.

    I did find a stat that said 95% of the people out on bond show up, that’s pretty good, I doubt the locked up people get to 100%.

  9. Paul Kubosh says:

    Your claim is that poor people are evil and should not be given the benefit of the doubt.

    I didn’t say that. You are lying and you know it.

    The numbers have been filed in the federal case. Rosenthal knows it and she just doesn’t care. Enjoy paying for Uber rides and cell phones.

    Just embrace the new normal. Do not be scared of it.

  10. Manny says:

    Why post the facebook video about a poor Black American, then Paul? Why is it that Trump lovers/Republicans always like to use images of people of color? One would think that there are no poor white Americans by what Republicans post. That was white officer making that statement, wasn’t it.

    As to the Uber rides if they do occur at least Houstonians will start getting something for all the County taxes they pay.

  11. Paul Kubosh says:

    Manny he was an armed robber facing 5 life sentences. Not because he was Black or poor but because he is evil.

  12. Manny says:

    I know what he was Paul, I read some article before posting my first comment. But that is what Trump and the Republicans do, they find one incident and blow it out of proportion and almost, if not awlays it is a person of color that they take aim at.

    Presently you have your god Trump, posting 9/11 videos targeting a woman of color who is not a Christian, she is an evil Muslim if one were to believe the Trump Party.

    But maybe they should use a while male as being un-American and hating on this country. For instance;

    https://youtu.be/2ASRlzeLg0U

    Thousands of lives lost and he is happy that he know haves the tallest building. Your god, Trump, also took hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for business hurt by 9/11 using his tallest building. He claimed damage when there was none.

    https://www.gq.com/story/trumps-attack-on-ilhan-omar-is-his-latest-911-scam

  13. Jules says:

    Free Ubers may not be a great idea, but as far as cost goes, it’s cheaper than providing room and board, plus a ride to court.

    They need to start with making sure people knew when and where their court dates are.

  14. Paul Kubosh says:

    People have always signed a document acknowledging that they knew where and when they were going to have their next court date.

  15. Jules says:

    The one article I read said that the sheriff’s office specifically had a problem with this and blamed it on part on Harvey(?). Since this is a newly implemented policy, I am not surprised they have issues that need to be fixed.

    It is wrong to detain people for months pretrial because they are poor.

  16. Jules says:

    “Supporters of the order say these numbers are inflated because those released by the sheriff are often given wrong court dates upon their release from jail.”

    The quote from the article I linked to above

  17. Paul Kubosh says:

    The way you can tell what is the truth is by looking at the bond forfeitures. Can’t have a bond forfeiture without a signed promise to appear. The anti bail people are still suing on bond forfeitures. It’s just that instead of suing the bondsman they are suing the poor defendant. The poor who miss court will actually pay more in the long run. That’s the way it works.

  18. C.L. says:

    Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time – Baretta.

  19. Jules says:

    The 55% who show up will be better off. Hopefully the sheriff will figure out hiw to give the correct court dates.

  20. The Sheriff does. He has never had a problem with it. Can’t have a warrant for missing court without proof that the Defendant had notice of the court date.

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