Houston Chronicle criticizes judicial conduct commission for ‘wrist slap’ to judges

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The Houston Chronicle editorial board chastised the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in a recent editorial, saying the state panel gave a “wrist slap” to three current and eight former Harris County judges found to have routinely denied no-cost bail to thousands of poor defendants for nearly a decade.

The 13-member commission, a mix of judges, attorneys and citizens, found that the Harris County judges didn’t evaluate each bond request on its own merit in an effort to reduce the number of personal bond requests granted by magistrates. 

A federal judge recently gave preliminary approval to a settlement in a lawsuit that claims indigent defendants were jailed in Harris County solely because they couldn’t post bail. 

In August, the commission sanctioned the 11 judges, giving them one of the weakest versions of a public admonition. The Chronicle compared it to “waving your finger at a wayward child.”

But the commission later retracted even that mild sanction, Nicole DeBorde, an attorney for the judges, told the Chronicle. 

The Chronicle editorial noted that “the commission’s meetings are closed and it doesn’t reveal how members vote.” 

Out of 82 reprimands, admonitions and warnings issued by the commission last year, 35 were kept private. 

“It makes sense to protect the reputation of a judge who might have been unfairly targeted in a frivolous complaint,” the Chronicle wrote. “But any time the commission decides a judge has done something wrong, it should name the judge and reveal the misdeed. Voters need that information for the next judicial election.”

Meanwhile, the eight former Harris County judges accused in the no-cost bail fiasco are still eligible to serve as visiting judges in local courtrooms.

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