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Good Intentions Gone Bad: What Lessons the Rest of Texas Can Learn from Harris County’s “Bail Reform”

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PolitiFix - Good Intentions Gone Bad: What Lessons the Rest of Texas Can Learn from Harris County’s “Bail Reform”

by KEN W. GOOD

 

Introduction

The start of the new year began with much promise. But that was before the coronavirus began to spread. Although a popular movement throughout the country in recent years, a colder reality has hit more recently as the solutions put forth in jurisdictions where it has been implemented have proven to be less successful than originally conceived.

Here in Texas, the citizens of Harris County are learning the hard lessons of good intentions gone bad as a result of federal litigation in the case of O’Donnell v. Harris County — something the remaining Texas should be aware of as advocates push ahead with their agendas.

 

History

Maranda O’Donnell was arrested for driving with a suspended license, no insurance and having accumulated nearly $1,500 in unpaid tolls. Having lost her license due to prior convictions involving the use of controlled substances, her attorneys argued that she was unlawfully denied the right to bail because of her inability to pay the amount indicated by Harris County’s set bond schedule.

The O’Donnell case began in May 2016 with a complaint, motion to certify class and a motion for a temporary restraining order filed against Harris County, Sheriff Ron Hickman and five other defendants.

After litigating motions to dismiss for failing to state a claim, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in September 2016, which added as defendants all 16 criminal court misdemeanor judges in Harris County. It was alleged that the judges were acting as policy makers for purposes of establishing jurisdiction in federal court since they had all signed a standing order adopting a bail schedule. The complaint alleged that poor defendants were not given an opportunity to request a deviation from the bail schedule when they first saw a judge and that this violated equal protection and due process requirements under the federal Constitution.

The trial court entered two preliminary injunctions that were appealed to the Fifth Circuit which issued multiple opinions reversing and/or staying the trial court’s orders. In August 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed portions of a second preliminary injunction holding that there is no fundamental right to be free from any form of wealth-based detention.

According to opinions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Harris County was required by the Texas Constitution to hold a hearing within 48 hours of arrest for anyone claiming poverty and an inability to pay for a bond set pursuant to the bail schedule. Further, the Fifth Circuit, held that once a hearing was granted, the level of scrutiny by the federal courts would be lowered to a rational basis review.

Therefore, providing a hearing within 48 hours of arrest would provide the county and taxpayers the maximum discretion to ensure that constitutional requirements were met.

 

A Turn in the Road

Harris County was on track to win the federal court litigation.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs recently made a public admission that they knew they could not win the case on the strength of their legal arguments. Instead, they took a different strategy, looking to achieve victory through the only means possible: through the ballot box, by replacing the judges in Harris County with those who would provide the plaintiffs what they wanted in settlement since they could not get it through the legal process.

During the 2018 election campaign, proponents insisted that a settlement was necessary because of Harris County’s expenditure of more than $8 million in legal fees. Their tactics worked and a new slate of judges, who promised sweeping changes, was voted onto the bench.

The aftermath of the election revealed that the same advocates who criticized spending $8 million in legal fees were now calling for a down payment of more than $95 million to carry out the measures set forth in the proposed settlement agreement.

The settlement authorizes a defendant to be released in many situations without ever seeing a magistrate. Also, it allows these individuals to miss court at least two times without penalty. Further, the settlement raises the burden of proof higher than set forth in both state statutes and the Texas Constitution, making it more difficult to detain anyone without bail. It also calls for the county to agree to perform a study on why people fail to appear for court — and will fund whatever the recommendations. If the study concludes that people miss court because they do not have a ride to court, lack daycare or cannot afford a cell phone, the county has agreed it will provide these things free of charge.

 

Lessons Learned

The Harris County experience has many lessons for the taxpayers of the rest of Texas.

The first is “do no harm.” In reforming one system that has been in existence for hundreds of years, it is unwise to make changes that actually make the system worse. In Texas, the Office of Court Administration has reviewed the settlement in Harris County and has concluded that it opposes the system and does not want it implemented in any other county. Legal experts in the state have determined that the settlement “does harm” to other parts of the criminal justice system which they find unacceptable. Other Texas Counties would do well to heed this same advice. Any attempts to reform a bail system that has been working for several hundred years should be reviewed with a wary eye regarding what unintended consequences would be unleashed.

The second lesson of the Harris County experience is that bail reform is expensive. Critics of the litigation attacked the county for spending over $8 million in legal fees defending a system that they believed needed reform. The former judges would have readily agreed with the reforms identified by the Fifth Circuit, but the plaintiffs required that any settlement include much more, including items to which they were not entitled based on the merits of the trial.

Now, as a result of the settlement, taxpayers are being forced to reach into their wallets to make a down payment toward the settlement in the amount of more than $95 million. In the remaining counties in Texas, taxpayers should be wary of allowing civil plaintiffs to collude with politicians in an attempt to weaponize federal litigation in order to mandate political agendas.

The third lesson is that the Harris County criminal justice system is under stress and in danger of collapse. The American criminal justice system is based upon the concept of accountability, but this settlement removes it to a great degree. As a result, more defendants are missing court without consequences. Therefore, their cases are put on hold until — or if — the defendant returns. Case backlogs are increasing while officers, on average, are arresting the same number of individuals annually.

For example, in May of this year, Alex Guajardo was arrested for a DWI, the second time he had been arrested on this charge. He was granted a PR bond, but in late July, he was arrested again, this time for assault on a family member — his pregnant wife, Caitlynne. A day later, the trial court entered a protective order for Caitlynne and released Guajardo on another PR bond. Three days after that, Guajardo was arrested yet again. The charges? Capital murder for killing his wife and unborn child. According to investigators Guajardo stabbed Caitlynne 20 times. Guajardo told them that he deliberately stabbed her in the abdomen to make certain no other man would raise his child even if Caitlynne survived the attack.

Guajardo was denied bond for the charge of capital murder. But amazingly, a short time afterward, a general order bond was entered in the earlier case in which he allegedly assaulted Caitlynne, plus a second general order bond for his DWI charge. As difficult as it may be to believe, Guajardo would have been released yet again except for the “no bond” tag on his capital murder charge.

Also, these reforms are having a negative impact on public safety. While elected officials claim that these changes will make us safer, the numbers show a much different story.

The Harris County Police Officers Union has done the math, and this is what their numbers reveal…

Harris County: 2019

Burglary of a Motor Vehicle up over 30%
Burglary up 12%
Theft up 10%
Auto Theft up 25%
Murders up 23%
Robberies up 21%
Aggravated Assault up 26%
Kidnapping up 68%

When considering any reforms of its criminal justice system, the people of the remaining Texas Counties should keep in mind that the purpose of bail is to release defendants from jail with sufficient assurances that they will return upon the call of the trial court to answer the charges against them. If accountability is removed, then chaos will not be far behind. A criminal justice system without accountability is only voluntary. A defendant would have to agree to be punished before it could actually be meted out because the individual could simply avoid it by failing to appear.

 

Conclusion

There are occasions when the criminal justice system is the final opportunity for a wayward individual to be turned into a productive citizen. To be sure, we live in challenging times. Drug use is growing, while families continue to fail. Meanwhile, school dropout rates are increasing, with more and more people feeling left behind and without hope of economic opportunity. However, we cannot blame the failings of society on the criminal justice system and then try to address them through bail reform.

The bail system used throughout the United States has been around for hundreds of years. It has withstood the test of time because it is a system built on accountability with the singular job of getting people to court in a timely manner.

Unfortunately, as we have seen throughout the country, good people on all sides of the issue have been attempting to tweak or “reform” bail, often to address matters that were never a part of the bail process at all. When this happens, all too often we are seeing reforms going wildly off track, with the net results reflecting far more harm done to society than any good. The remaining counties in Texas should be mindful to tread carefully in the area of bail reform and to learn the lessons of what has not worked or their leaders may wind-up following in Harris County’s footsteps, much to the disservice of its residents and taxpayers.

 

//pf

 

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U.S. Politics

Anna Paulina Luna: Discipline, Duty, and a Commitment to Country Before Politics

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PolitiFix - Anna Paulina

by EMMA JIMENEZ

 

Anna Paulina Luna, a conservative political activist and Air Force veteran, is running for US Congress in 2020 for Florida’s 13th Congressional district against incumbent Democrat Rep. Charlie Crist, whose current term ends on January 3, 2021. Luna is on the ballot in the general election on November 3, 2020. She advanced from the Republican primary on August 18, 2020.

Raised by a single mother of three in the low-income neighborhoods of Southern California, Luna grew up in a life of poverty as the daughter of an absentee father who struggled with drug addiction. The challenges Luna faced during her childhood did not stop her from wanting to aim high, fight, and win. At just nineteen years of age, she made the bold decision to enlist in the United States Air Force. Serving in the military helped Luna develop strength and courage. It also provided the structure she lacked in her early family life, and it enabled her to earn a steady income to support her family financially and to seek professional help for her father. Luna has spoken of the humility she gained while in the Air Force from working closely with people from all walks of life toward a common goal. She thanks her military experience for her success in life today.

Additionally, Luna was able to attend college through her military service and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of West Florida. She had always dreamed about becoming a doctor so she could help support her family and accomplish her ultimate goal of opening a clinic for low-income patients. When she was accepted into medical school, a doctor and mentor told Luna she could help more people in politics than as a doctor because she would have a bigger impact on people’s health care through legislation. As a result, Luna turned down the opportunity to attend medical school because she feared the direction the country was headed. She decided at that moment to put aside ten years of effort in becoming a doctor to instead serve her country by entering the ring in what could be the fight of her life—defeating an incumbent, entrenched democrat in the world of politics.

Sought out by PragerU and Turning Point USA, Anna Paulina Luna is a fast learner who has soaked in facts, statistics, and policies while quickly developing public speaking skills and amassing a large number of contacts, supporters, and channels to create her path to Washington.

 

If elected, Luna will do the following:

  • Solidify and expand conservative outreach to Hispanics and or/Latinos nationally
  • Advocate for the national reciprocity of concealed carry gun permits
  • Bring back school choice and return control of education to the states
  • Advocate for completing the border wall and securing America’s border

 

Luna’s commitment to her country is represented by the oath she took to defend the United States Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. She believes there is no greater honor than to serve your country- in fact, she shared with Politifix News that serving her country was an honor, not an obligation. She further stated that by serving her country, she was also serving humanity as a whole.

Luna is concerned that our country’s freedoms are slowly being dismantled by left-wing politicians who wish to strip Americans of their individual freedoms in their ultimate quest for greater power and control. She believes that government should be limited—not expanded. To Luna, limiting the power of government prevents excessive control over people’s freedoms, actions, and lives.

In Luna’s own words, “Our constitutional rights as Americans aren’t secure if they are continuously being violated by politicians who only wish to extend their political power over Americans’ individual freedoms.”

Luna sees herself as a non-politician—one not controlled by special interests but who cherishes the opportunity to serve her district as well as her country once more. She’s ready to fight for our “God-given rights,” as she boldly expressed. Overcoming significant obstacles during her early years made her want to keep fighting, not just for herself but also for others.

Luna is a fighter. She’s focused, committed, and resilient. She will not give up and will always fight for what is right.

 

For more information on Anna Paulina Luna and to support her run for Congress, please visit her official webpage.

 

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Texas Politics

Meet TX Congressional Candidate: Fabian Cordova Vasquez

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PolitiFix - Fabian Cordova Vasquez

by EMMA JIMENEZ

Fabian Cordova Vasquez is a Texas native and third generation Hispanic American. He is running for election to the U.S. House to represent Texas’ 33rd Congressional District. He is on the ballot in the general election on November 3, 2020 and is running against incumbent Democrat Marc Veasey. Veasey’s current term ends on January 3, 2021. Vasquez identifies himself as a God fearing, conservative Christian not controlled by special interests, compelled by a higher calling to serve. He is running on a conservative platform of faith, family and freedom.

Vasquez has gained recognition for his charitable work with his local community through actively serving the homeless through his local church, Refuge Church Fort Worth, TX. The Vasquez campaign committee stands by their campaign motto, “We Get To Serve!”

Vasquez shared with Politifix news how government dependency is currently an issue plaguing Americans today. To him government dependency programs take away from an individual’s potential to thrive on their own merits.

“It is our responsibility as Christians to be generous and to want to help others. It is not the government’s responsibility to force us to be generous to help others. This is what liberals get wrong,” stated Vasquez.

Vasquez expressed with Politifix News how Christianity is currently under attack and that the very survival of Christianity today will depend on the spiritual strength of “true-believers.”

“We live in a hostile and chaotic culture that glorifies sin. Christians should fight as hard for religious liberty as they do for political expression” expressed Vasquez.

Abortion is a controversial topic amongst Republicans and Democrats. Vasquez stated that abortion itself is “diabolical,” and should not be encouraged.

 

“It’s murder! Plain and simple.” exclaimed Vasquez.

 

To Vasquez the life of an innocent child should be protected at all costs. Although, Vazquez is sympathetic to cases in which rape and incest are involved, he stated they make up approximately 1% of reasons listed for getting an abortion in the U.S. and should not be the to go argument to justify the “slaughter,” of the other 99% of abortion cases.

“Abortion is not the pathway to the healing process and it should not be encouraged. Rape survivors need compassion and support not abortion” stated Vasquez.

“As a country that stands for freedom for all, Christians should not have to continue to be told to keep their personal convictions silent. If you’re not willing to stand up and fight for what you believe in then you’re only inviting more persecution and amplifying evil,” expressed Vasquez.

Vasquez shared the following bible verse with Politifix News:

 

1 Timothy 6:12 ESV

 

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

 

For more information on Fabian Cordova Vasquez visit his webpage

 

www.fcv2020.com

 

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U.S. Politics

Meet Luke Negron: The Young Wolf of Politics Discusses BLM and Police Brutality

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 by EMMA JIMENEZ

 

Luke Negron is a conservative political activist and Air Force veteran, running for election to the U.S. House to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District against incumbent Democrat Michael Doyle. He is on the ballot for the general election on November 3, 2020. Negron identifies himself as a non-politician, one not controlled by special interests and who seeks to restore law and order if elected to congress.

Politifix News interviewed Negron on the latest riots in the wake of the death of George Floyd and how they have caused tensions amongst the black community and law enforcement. Negron expressed that he is sympathetic towards the emotions of the black community in regards to police brutality but he condemns the riots and looting being perpetrated by BLM supporters.

Negron stated the following with Politifix News:

“It is important to distinguish against the idea of “black lives matter,” and the black lives matter organization. The organization itself is a Marxist organization, who manipulate the emotions of minorities to advance their own politically motivated agenda. Of course black lives matter, no one is saying that they don’t.”

Negron argued how defunding law enforcement will only embolden criminals to target the most vulnerable. He mentioned how the most recent Gallup poll concluded that 81% of Black Americans & 83% of Hispanic Americans don’t want less police presence despite protesters, but instead want more police.

Negron expressed with Politifix News how police brutality is abhorrent and those that dishonor their oath to protect and serve should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. However, defunding police departments in cities with the highest crime rates will only hurt black and brown lives – not improve them. He proposes innovative police training which entails three policy ideas:

1) Universal body cams: The public is protected against abuses of power and the police are protected against false claims that could hurt their career. Negron wants universal body cams in every department.

2) Police chiefs should be elected not appointed: Negron claims that unlike a sheriff, a chief is appointed by a mayor and thus when their officers do wrong, the chief doesn’t suffer an immediate consequence from the public. If elected, the chief would have to answer to the public and if they aren’t doing a good job serving the public, they stand to lose their job.

Negron further added that many of the chiefs in cities with the highest crime rates are appointed by democrat mayors and tend to run the department with the mayor’s agenda. An elected chief would have to answer directly to the voting public instead of just the mayor that hired them.

3) Nationwide registry of police disciplinary records: Negron stated a data base should be established so that a law enforcement officer fired or forced to leave one city can’t simply move to another city and be back on the streets. Citizens and police departments would be made aware of a police officer’s disciplinary record regardless of new location.

Negron expressed how school choice can reduce the criminality issue that currently exists within most inner cities where minorities tend to reside the most.

“Parents should have the option of what school they wish their children to attend,” argued Negron. According to Negron school choice will not only increase parental satisfaction but it will ultimately benefit the child. Research has shown that school choice has been proven to lead to higher graduation rates which in return helps a child advance in life.

Politifix News questioned Negron on how politicians can strengthen the relationship with law enforcement and minority communities.

“Having police officers chosen who are specifically equipped to work with communities they are familiar with can help with building and strengthening relationships. Having police officers that are familiar with the community and having that same community familiar with the police officers patrolling their area is key. A police officer no longer becomes just a man or woman in a blue uniform but rather a trusted and known individual within the community,” expressed Negron. 

Negron agrees with the sentiment that black lives matter, those lives including unborn black children, black lives taken by other black lives, and black lives in blue uniforms. However, a movement that is selective on which black lives they choose to be outraged over is a movement he can’t and won’t support.

 

For more information on Luke Negron visit his webpage:

www.negron2020.com

 

//pf

 

 

 

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