With just a few days under their belt, Harris County’s slate of newly sworn-in judges unanimously decided to drop the appeal of the county’s long-running bail lawsuit.
This case goes back to 2016 when attorneys filed suit on behalf of indigent defendants in Harris County who were held behind bars because they couldn’t pay their bail. The suit alleged that Harris County was essentially running a debtors’ prison. Republican-appointed judge Lee Rosenthal ruled in favor of the indigent defendants, but since then the county has spent millions appealing the lawsuit.
After being sworn in, the new judges, who became parties to the suit upon taking office, asked for the case to be dismissed and it was granted.
It was clear that with the massive changes in the county judiciary because of November’s election, the suit would take a new turn. Many of the judges campaigned on ending the suit and blamed Republicans for spending what’s now $9 million fighting the indigent defendants.
The judges also took aim at the D.C. law firm that has been representing the county by replacing them with Allan Van Fleet, a Houston-based attorney who agreed to represent them for free.
A similar suit was filed in Dallas County. As reforms to bail systems have been slow, civil rights groups have actively started pushing reform via legal challenges and if Harris County proves to be the model, they might be successful.
Though the 5thCircuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal following the judges’ request, there is another hearing schedule before Judge Rosenthal on February 1. Fleet and the judges said they hope to have a plan in place prior to then.