Judges to Harris County Commissioners Court: Settle bail bond case now

Harris County Commissioners Court discussed the county's bail bond lawsuit at its Feb. 27 meeting.

Harris County Commissioners Court discussed the county's bail bond lawsuit at its Feb. 27 meeting.

Two Harris County criminal court judges spoke at the Feb. 27 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting to urge commissioners to settle the court case that has resulted in a protracted legal battle over the county’s bail bond system for the past year.

The matter began with a lawsuit known as the O'Donnell case, filed in September 2016 and alleging the county unfairly jails those who cannot afford to pay cash bail. The suit alleged that a “wealth-based pretrial detention system” violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

On Feb. 14, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal's April 2017 ruling that the county's bail practices are unconstitutional.

Criminal Court Judge Darrell Jordan, who is named in the suit, addressed the commissioners early in the meeting, stating he felt the county’s expenditure of approximately $6 million on the court battle so far was a poor use of resources.

“There’s been no victory by these lawyers who are now going to be paid $6 million. A first-year lawyer could have done what they have done, which is essentially lost every argument,” Jordan said.

Jordan said the case should be handled by the Harris County Attorney’s Office.

“The most conservative appellate court in this country, strict constitutional conservatives, have said this practice that we are doing is unconstitutional. What do we continue to fight for?” Jordan asked. “I’m asking that you all cut this last check, fire these $6 million lawyers, let the county attorney’s office come, and we all sit down and work out a settlement.”

According to reporting by the Texas Tribune, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals asked Rosenthal for a modified ruling, suggesting a procedure that would include a hearing for defendants unable to afford bail within 48 hours, during which time they can argue for bond that is lower or free of cost. Her original ruling called for the county to release misdemeanor defendants within 24 hours if they could not afford bail.

Responding to a question from Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, Jordan said he would be willing to work Saturdays in order for the court to fulfill the requirement to hold a hearing within 48 hours for defendants unable to afford bail.

Criminal Court Judge Mike Fields also said he would be willing to work Saturdays and addressed the reasons he said the county should settle the case.

“We have to prioritize constitutional issues over statutory issues … that are not as important as a person’s right to affordable bail,” Fields said. “I ask that you use every tool in your arsenal to help us settle this case. I have been vocal about my feeling that we need to settle this. Our county needs to settle this for financial reasons, and our public needs it settled for reasons of good governance and confidence in the criminal justice system."

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he favored settling the case, but said the plaintiffs had not responded to offers made by the county.

“I’ve publicly said … if Judge Rosenthal would change her ruling to where this wouldn’t be a continuing get-out-of-jail-free card, I’m all for settling," Emmett said. "It’s my understanding that there are offers to settle that have not been responded to by the plaintiffs.”

Emmett said he agrees with the idea that poor misdemeanor defendants should not be jailed simply because they cannot afford bail.

“No person should be put in jail simply because they can’t afford bail, there’s no question about that,” he said.
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.


MOST RECENT

As variants are isolated and identified, Houston Methodist's Dr. Ian Glass believes the vaccines available can handle identified variants (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
'The vaccines we have are effective against all the variants out there': Houston Methodist's Dr. Ian Glass discusses variants, vaccinations

As Houston Methodist identified its first case of the lambda variant July 19, Dr. Glass believes vaccines can handle known variants.

Peter Lake (left), chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and Brad Jones, interim president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, provided an update on state regulators' electric grid redesign efforts in Austin on July 22. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Regulators: Texas electric grid prepared for potentially record-breaking demand next week; 'once-in-a-generation reforms' underway

The heads of the agencies in charge of the Texas electric grid met in Austin on July 22 to provide updates on their grid reform efforts.

port of houston
Port of Houston sets new diversity standards for business contracts

The port is joining a growing number of local and regional bodies interested in updating policies to increase participation from minority and women-owned businesses.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is pleading with residents to be more vigilant, asking all residents to start wearing masks again in indoor settings and asking those who are vaccinated to urge their friends who are not to get the shot. (Screenshot Courtesy Facebook)
Harris County raises coronavirus threat level as Hidalgo asks all residents to mask up indoors

Although those who are vaccinated are very unlikely to end up in the hospital, officials said wearing masks in certain situations could help reduce transmissions to the more susceptible unvaccinated.

A COVID-19 vaccine dose is administered to a person's arm
Montgomery County sees July increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations

Active COVID-19 cases in Montgomery County climbed above 1,000 for the first time in two months, just after June recorded the lowest active cases since 2020.

Come out to a family-friendly market complete with separate bounce houses for toddlers and older children, a sack race and an egg-on-the-spoon race. (Courtesy Kotour Event)
Attend a musical, support young athletes: 20 events, things to do in the Lake Houston area throughout July, August

Here are a few events and things to do in the Lake Houston area throughout the months of July and August.

Get Well Clinic's new location in Humble offers pediatric and family medicine in addition to flu shots, vaccines and physicals. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Get Well Clinic's new Humble location offers pediatric care

Medical provider Get Well Clinic celebrated the grand opening of its new location on June 15 at 19020 W. Lake Houston Parkway, Humble.

Memorial Hermann has locations throughout the Greater Houston area, including Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center. (Courtesy Memorial Hermann)
Memorial Hermann visiting policies change as COVID-19 cases rise

As of July 21, Memorial Hermann has changed its visitor policy in light of a recent increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Greater Houston area.

drainage
Houston launches revamped 3-1-1 system

City staff have been in the process of updating the system over the last nine months.

Houston unemployment is above state and national levels, while home sales in the region continue to be strong, according to a July 21 economic update from the Greater Houston Partnership. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
Unemployment, strong housing sales mark 2021 Houston economy, Greater Houston Partnership says

While Houston job recovery lags due to the pandemic, area home sales are strong, according to the Greater Houston Partnership.

Humble ISD anticipated the state would pass a bill that would give them $15 million-25 million to help fund a virtual learning option for the upcoming school year. Without these funds, HISD now turns to the Texas Education Agency for help. (Courtesy Unsplash)
Humble ISD continues fighting for virtual learning funds ahead of 2021-22 school year

Humble ISD continues its search for virtual learning funds as the beginning of school approaches.

In a late-night amendment addition, Harris County Commissioners Court denied an original resolution aiming to increase restrictions on nonmonetary pretrial release bonds in a split vote after hearing over two hours of public testimony July 20 for and against the resolution. The amended resolution, which was approved in a second split vote, favors focusing on criminal court backlogs and funding alternative public safety solutions. (Courtesy Pexels)
After hours of debate, Harris County commissioners oppose resolution restricting felony nonmonetary pretrial release bonds

In a late-night amendment addition, Harris County Commissioners Court denied an original resolution aiming to increase restrictions on non-monetary pretrial release bonds in a split vote after hearing over two hours of public testimony July 20 for and against the resolution.