Suit alleges Harris County judges circumvented defendant's constitutional right to bail

By David Yates | Feb 15, 2019

HOUSTON – A lawsuit involving the on-going fight between bail reform and the legal right to bail was filed Feb. 14 in Harris County District Court.

The case of McCleveland v. Salgado pertains to actions taken by all 16 misdemeanor Criminal Court at Law judges in Harris County who, it is alleged, circumvented the constitutional right to bail when they ordered the release of 85 percent of all defendants who were in jail at the time, leaving 15 percent with no recourse whatsoever.

 The lawsuit has its roots in the federal civil rights case of ODonnell v. Harris County. Plaintiffs in that case argued that they were unlawfully denied the right to bail because of their inability to pay the amount prescribed.  Last August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that there is no fundamental right to be free from any form of wealth-based detention.

According to a press release, as part of settlement negotiations in the ODonnell case, the 16 misdemeanor judges -- 15 of whom were newly-elected -- adopted Local Rule 9.1, which ordered the release of 85 percent of all defendants without bail.  In so doing, it is alleged, the constitutional right to bail was effectively denied to all defendants when it was removed as an option.

Judge Lee Rosenthal, who presided over the ODonnell case, has not yet entered a decree and no settlement has been reached.

With McCleveland v. Salgado, bail bondsmen argue that they have a protected property right to engage in the business of bail bonding in Texas.  Further, they assert that defendants have a right to use the services of a bondsman when allowed under the Texas constitution and state statute.  Their lawsuit alleges that Rule 9.1 violates Texas law in six separate respects.

In addition to the 16 Harris County misdemeanor Criminal Court at Law judges, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is also named in the suit, and is accused of being complicit with the actions of the judges.

The plaintiffs are asking that an injunction be issued, preventing the Rule 9.1 policy from coming into further effect, and also demand an immediate hearing on whether the policy should be temporarily enjoined pending the outcome of the case.

The American Bail Coalition is dedicated protecting the Constitutional right to bail and the promotion, protection and advancement of the surety bail profession in the U.S.

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