Texas Governor and Attorney General Go On Offense to Stop Calculated Effort to Let All Felons Out Of Jail in Harris County Amid COVID-19 Threat

Texas Governor and Attorney General Go On Offense to Stop Calculated Effort to Let All Felons Out Of Jail in Harris County Amid COVID-19 Threat

Bail reform activists from coast-to-coast are not trying to help communities fight the virus – they are instead using the existence of the virus to drum up sympathy for criminal defendants and encouraging states and local jurisdictions to simply open the door to the jails.

For years, we have been quick to point out that most defendants in jail are frequent fliers and that “low-level” offenders are already released without any restrictions at all.  Those that remain in jail represent a risk to public safety, risk of reoffending, and risk to failing to appear.

The Civil Rights Corps wants to change all that.

In the case of Russell v. Harris County, Texas, filed by the Civil Rights Corps, we are talking about the class of people in the Harris County jail charged with felonies who allegedly cannot afford their bail that activist groups now say should be immediately released without posting bail.

The Civil Rights Corps, who brought you the wildly successful reforms on the misdemeanor level that are now increasing crime and misconduct in Harris County, decided to file on Friday March 27, 2020 an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction with their favorite Judge, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Lee Rosenthal, in the companion felony case that is working its way through the court system.

In the motion, the Civil Rights Corps is demanding the immediate release of felony defendants who allegedly cannot afford their bail because of the impact of the COVID-19 virus.  That’s right: it will apparently help society to contain the virus and reduce crime by releasing those currently quarantined who are known to thumb their nose at the system, have a storied past and are likely to reoffend.  The early impacts of these policies are starting to take their toll…

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The Governor and Attorney General have seen enough.

The debate in Harris County over these soft on crime policies has now taken an interesting turn as Governor Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have now intervened.  At 3:30 pm Sunday afternoon, Governor Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting the very felony defendants the Civil Rights Corps says should be released from being released.

Said the Governor’s Order…

WHEREAS, several counties are now reportedly considering the broad-scale release of arrested or jailed individuals as a result of COVID-19, including potentially those who have committed felonies, in order to reduce the size of the jail population; and


WHEREAS, such releases from county or municipal jails of those charged with, convicted of, or having a history of offenses involving physical violence or threats of physical violence would not only gravely threaten public safety, but would also hinder efforts to cope with the COVID-19 disaster;

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton then followed that up by filing a motion to intervene in the case on behalf of Governor Abbott and the State of Texas.

Judge Rosenthal is expected to hold a hearing on the matter on March 31 at 4:00 pm central time.  The hearing is completely closed to the public and will be held via teleconference.  Yet, we can all feel safe that we’ll get the story through the Houston Chronicle reporter Gabrielle Banks, who Judge Rosenthal must like because she was conferred the right to “notice and an opportunity to dial in” to “all” future hearings in the case.  Check out the Order here.  All other media other than the Houston Chronicle and the public have been excluded by virtue of this order.  So, Judge Rosenthal has started this process out by suspending the First Amendment and hand-picking an outlet that has led the charge on bail reform to be the only conduit for the public to learn what is going on.  There is nothing filed in the case by the Houston Chronicle and thus they obtained exclusive access ex parte.

One thing is for sure: the activists appeared to have poked the bear and not even a timely judicial backpedal by Rosenthal will fix this blunder.  If it weren’t so critically important to public safety, it would be funny.  But certainly no one is laughing now.

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