Black Lives Matter, other groups seek removal of Harris County judge over Houston Chronicle comments

By Angela Underwood | Mar 22, 2018

HOUSTON – Blacks Lives Matter: Houston and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, along with six other organizations, have called for the suspension and removal of the 209th District Criminal Court Judge Michael McSpadden for comments made in a Feb. 23 Houston Chronicle report the groups claim show racial bias.

“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 could tell a young black man . . . . They teach contempt for the police, for the whole justice system,” McSpadden is quoted saying in the Houston Chronicle.

According to a March 2 letter to the Texas Commission of Judicial Conduct, the ACLU of Texas, Houston Branch of the NAACP, Texas Civil Rights Project, ImagiNoir/BLMHTX Organizing Collective, Earl Carl Institute for Legal & Social Policy, Texas Organizing Project, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and Black Lives Matter: Houston, charge McSpadden’s comments were given after a reporter asked the judge about his administrative policy to deny personal bond to all cases that came through the Harris County Court system.

“If the quotation in the Houston Chronicle article is correct, Judge McSpadden’s bias warrants his immediate suspension and removal. The quotation reveals that Judge McSpadden had an administrative policy of denying personal bond motivated by bias against young black men, which violates the following Canons of Judicial Conduct,” according to the letter sent to the commission.

McSpadden attempted to clarify his comments in a March 1 Houston Chronicle letter to the editor stating “I also told the reporter that over the 36 years I’ve been on the bench, the defendants’ (all races) attitudes have changed.”

However, there is no excuse for his words, according to Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas.

“This isn’t new, but it’s jarring to hear a powerful figure in the criminal justice system embrace that discrimination so openly," Burke said in a press release, adding, "If our justice system ever hopes to live up to the ideals that are meant to guide it, we have to stamp out unfairness, injustice and inequality that black defendants face in courtrooms like Judge McSpadden’s.”

It is not just McSpadden the eight organizations want penalized for enacting the administrative policy.

“Instead, the article reported that at least 31 current and former Harris County judges instructed magistrates to deny personal bond in all cases,” according to the letter sent to the commission, adding, “All judges who adopted such policies, not just Judge McSpadden, willfully discriminated on the basis of socioeconomic status in violation of the Canons of Judicial Conduct.”

McSpadden makes no apologies for his comments.

"What I said was true whether you like it or not,” McSpadden said in the letter to the editor.

“For those of you who read my quotes completely out of context and responded unfortunately in a predictable manner, you need to realize the word 'racist' has lost all meaning since it is used to describe anyone with whom you don’t agree,” McSpadden added.

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Organizations in this Story

Harris County District Court Texas Civil Rights Project

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