Monday, January 29, 2018

Doing the right thing

Well here's an interesting twist in Harris County's fight against bail reform - Michael Fields, the presiding judge in County Criminal Court at Law No. 14 has withdrawn himself from the appeal. He joins Darrell Jordan, presiding judge in County Criminal Court at Law No. 16, on the sidelines.

According to Judge Fields, his view of the case changed after attending a hearing at the Federal Courthouse this past Tuesday where he had a front row view of the high powered legal team the county criminal judges hired to fight US District Judge Lee Rosenthal's ruling that the Harris County bail system was unconstitutional.
Fields initially opposed the lawsuit, and summed up his initial position as: "This is the way we've always done it. It has to be working OK. What are we doing wrong? We're not bad people."
Thus far Harris County has spent some $5 million defending a system of bail that led to an overcrowded jail and defendants pleading guilty just to get out of jail. Many of those cases were plead out, with the help of court-appointed attorneys, without so much as a cursory investigation of the facts. The only issue in most cases was whether the defendant would get out on time served or have to spend a few more nights in jail.

For those of y'all who plan on voting in the Republican primary, keep in mind that every incumbent (with the exception of Judge Fields) has spent taxpayer money to defend a system that denied any semblance of justice to the accused. The judges are upset because non-violent defendants are being released which makes it a hell of a lot easier to fight a case.

The system under which we labored for so long used a predetermined bail schedule to determine how much a person would have to post to get out of jail. That system didn't take into account a defendant's financial circumstances or factors that would determine the likelihood of his appearing in court. Bail was used as a punitive measure that punished the most vulnerable defendants.

The fact that the judges are fighting back against Judge Rosenthal's order should tell you everything you need to know about their attitude towards the citizen accused. These are judges who are more interested in moving their dockets than they are about justice. And they are using our money to fight for a system that was declared unconstitutional. Just think about that for a second.

Judge Fields and I have butted heads in the past - and I'm sure that if he remains on the bench we will butt heads again at some point in the future - but I'm going to commend him for his decision in this matter. It takes courage to stand up and admit that you were wrong, but that's exactly what Judge Fields has done.

Thank you, Judge, for doing the right thing.

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