Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Constructing the plea mill

Documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle cast new light on the ways Harris County judges systematically refused to grant personal bonds to defendants for years. Many district judges instructed magistrates not to grant personal bonds to any defendant - regardless of the offense and the ability of the defendant to post bond. This is Step One in created a plea mill.

Today, after US District Judge Lee Rosenthal declared Harris County's misdemeanor bond schedule to be unconstitutional, three-quarters of the county's 8,700 inmates are in jail awaiting trial. Think about that for a second. There are more than 6,000 people behind bars who haven't been convicted of anything.

This process came to light when three Harris County magistrates, Eric Hagsteette, Jill Wallace and Joseph Licata III, during disciplinary hearings before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The complaints were filed by State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston). During the hearings the magistrates told commissioners that they were instructed by judges not to grant PR bonds.

The following district court (felony) judges instructed magistrates not to grant PR bonds on cases assigned to their courts:

  • Devon Anderson, former district judge and DA, 2006-2007
  • Mike Anderson, former district judge and DA, 2006-2009
  • Jeannine Barr, 182nd District Court, 2006-2017
  • Denise Bradley, 262nd District Court, 2012-2017
  • Marc Brown, former district judge and current Justice on the 14th Court of Appeals, 2012
  • Susan Brown, 185th District Court, 2006-2012
  • Katherine Cabaniss, 248th District Court, 2014-2017
  • Joan Campbell, former district judge, 2006-2012
  • Marc Carter, 228th District Court, 2006-2014
  • Caprice Cosper, former district judge, 2006-2007
  • Denise Collins, 208th District Court, 2006-2012
  • Mark Kent Ellis, former district judge, 2006-2017
  • Catherine Evans, 180th District Court, 2014-2017
  • George Godwin, former district judge, 2006-2007
  • William Harwin, former district judge, current county court judge, 2006
  • Belinda Hill, former district judge, 2006-2012
  • Joan Huffman, former district judge and current state senator, 1999-2005
  • Hazel Jones, 338th District Court, 2009 and 2012
  • Jan Krocker, 184th District Court, 2006
  • Renee Magee, former district judge, 2014
  • Michael McSpadden, 209th District Court, 2006-2017
  • Ryan Patrick, former district judge and current US Attorney, 2012 and 2014
  • George Powell, 351st District Court, 2017
  • Brian Rains, former district judge, 2006-2007
  • Herb Ritchie, 337th District Court, 2009-2012
  • Debbie Mantooth Stricklin, former district judge, 2006-2009
  • Don Stricklin, former district judge, 2006-2007
  • Brock Thomas, former district judge, 2006-2007 and 2014
  • Vanessa Velasquez, 183rd District Court, 2006-2007
  • Jim Wallace, 263rd District Court, 2006-2017
  • Michael Wilkinson, former district judge, 2006-2007

Each of these judges systematically deprived defendants of bond. Yes, in some cases, individual decisions to deny PR bonds - or bond in general - was correct given the nature of the allegation and the criminal history of the defendant. But, making it a blanket policy to deny PR bonds without taking into account the individual circumstances of each defendant is wrong - and it is a systematic denial of justice.

"The young black men - and it's primarily young black men rather than young black women - charged with felony offenses, they're not getting good advice from their parents. Who do they get advice from? Rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter, which tell you, 'Resist police,' which is the worst thing in the world you can tell a young black man... They teach contempt for the police, for the whole justice system."
-- Judge Michael McSpadden, 209th District Court

Judge McSpadden even made a point of defending his position by blaming movements like Black Lives Matter for the problem. He hits all of the dog whistle talking points in his statement without taking into account the institutional racism found in law enforcement, police brutality and violence against unarmed black and brown men or the capricious nature in which bond decisions are made in Harris County.

No, Judge McSpadden, the contempt people of color feel for the criminal (in)justice system has more to do with the acts of those in charge of the system and the systemic racism inherent in the way our courts operate. Denying PR bonds to defendants because of the color of their skin or without regard to their ability to post bond breeds contempt for the system.

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