News Roundup: Changes To Harris County Bail System Are Still Possible Under New Democratic Judges

Our daily look at Texas headlines.


By Becky FogelJanuary 8, 2019 1:26 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

New misdemeanor judges in Harris County have dropped an appeal in an ongoing lawsuit over their bail system. The judges were elected as part of the Democratic wave that swept the county in the November midterms.

Houston Chronicle reporter Gabrielle Banks has been covering the landmark bail case since it began in 2016. She says this civil rights case argues the Harris County bail system discriminates against people who don’t have money to afford bond for low-level offenses.

“They use the term ‘wealth-based detention,’ meaning that two people locked on the exact same time charge, one person with money in their wallet can await trial outside and resume their job and all their life duties and make payments on their car … and the other person is going to await trial behind bars,” Banks says.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal sided with the plaintiffs, ruling the system unconstitutional. She also ordered the county to start releasing low-level defendants on no-cash bonds within 24 hours of their arrest.

Banks says that resulted in about 13,000 people being released from jail between 2017 and 2018. She also says that prompted almost all of the previous misdemeanor judges to appeal.

“And to be really blunt, I think that the judges freaked out,” Banks says.

Appealing this case cost the county about $9 million in legal fees.

But now that the new set of judges has dropped the appeal, all parties are already working on a settlement before heading back to court on Feb. 1. And Banks adds, once this case is all said and done, the groups that sued plan to work on bail for those with felonies.

“So, that would be the next step for them after getting a settlement is to go after people that are being held where others with money available to them would not be held pretrial,” Banks says.

Ninety percent of the people being held in Harris County jails are being held on felonies.

Abortion providers challenging Texas restrictions on the procedure were in a federal court in Austin Monday to see if their case can move forward. KUT’s Ashley Lopez says they’re asking the court to strike down a slew of laws they say are medically unnecessary.

So, this lawsuit was actually in response to a Supreme Court ruling in 2016 that said Texas’ HB2, which was that big abortion bill, was unconstitutional – that parts of it were unconstitutional because those restrictions in it were medically unnecessary. So, abortion providers here in Texas took that as a signal to challenge other laws here in Texas that they think are medically unnecessary, and that includes things like our ultrasound law requiring women to hear a fetal heartbeat before before getting an abortion [and] the 24-hour waiting period.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton described the lawsuit as “baseless.” The judge did not give a timeline on whether the case will proceed

Gov. Greg Abbott has set a special election for Feb. 12 to fill the Texas House seat vacated by State Rep. Justin Rodriguez.

The San Antonio Democrat left the post because he was appointed to a post as a Bexar County commissioner.