State panel admonishes Harris County judges for denying no-cost bail to the poor

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A total of 11 current and former Harris County district judges have been admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct due to complaints they ordered hearing officers to deny no-cost bail to thousands of poor defendants, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The newspaper’s reporting led the state panel to begin investigating the judges in February 2018. The Chronicle obtained memos and notes that showed the judges ordering the denial of no-cash bail over the course of a decade.

Plaintiffs sued Harris County judges and other officials in federal court in 2017 for allegedly violating the rights of poor defendants by not providing no-cost bail in many misdemeanor and felony cases, a lawsuit the county is now in the process of settling, the newspaper reported. 

The commission concluded this month that the judges “failed to comply with the law and failed to maintain competence in the law” by directing hearing officers not to issue bonds although they had the right to do so and are supposed to consider each case individually to make that determination.

Three active district judges were admonished, including Hazel Jones, Herb Richie and George Powell. Eight former judges that were admonished: Susan Brown, Denise Collins, Mark Ellis, Catherine Evans, Jim Wallace, Jeannine Barr, Katherine Cabaniss and Michael McSpadden.

McSpadden told the Chronicle he stands by his decisions:

“I have great respect for the work of the commission, but I still feel the same way. I, as the elected judge, would like to make the decision on free bonds for accused felons rather than turn those important duties over to the magistrates,” he said.

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