All 23 Harris County felony judges have been added as proposed defendants in the lawsuit alleging that the region’s felony bail practices are discriminatory and damaging to poor defendants.
The amended filing came late Friday after a second judge on the court intervened in support of the 2019 civil rights lawsuit arguing that it’s unconstitutional to jail poor people before trial simply because they cannot afford bail. These two judges, Brian Warren and Chuck Silverman, could potentially become both defendants and intervenors.
Several other judges said they looked forward to being formally included in the case in order to make changes to the current protocol.
Lawyers for the indigent people at the jail asked in a motion Friday that nearly two dozen judges be included in the case. They said in court documents that amid rising COVID-19 infections at the jail, the judges have continued to mandate that thousands of arrestees come up with secured money bail without first determining that pretrial detention is necessary or the least-restrictive condition to ensure public safety or cooperation with court hearings.
These judges don’t routinely hold adversarial hearings to allow defendants to make their case about bail and make findings about defendants’ ability to pay bail, the motion said.
Warren, a Democrat who was elected as presiding judge of the 209th Criminal Court, defeating a judge who berated Black Lives Matter, said he supports “intelligent bond reform” in his request to join the case. Silverman, of the 183rd Criminal Court, was accepted as a party in the case Thursday, a day after he filed an unopposed motion to join it.
“The pandemic has brought this into stark relief,” Warren said. He noted that bail has disproportionately affected people of color.
“The implementation of bond reform is a complex issue. It requires well-reasoned and intelligent proposals,” his motion said.
“We must work harder to change a system which has historically been discriminatory towards people of color and those who are destitute and who can barely put food on the table, let alone make a large bond for a family member,” Warren said.
Judge Josh Hill said he didn’t have enough time to consider whether to intervene or be a defendant but was glad to engage in the dialogue to address the inequities in the bail system.
Judge Chris Morton said he was glad he and his colleagues would be included on the process, to make “robust and lasting changes.”
“I look forward to being a part of this,” Morton said. “I have a very strong record of pushing for bond reform, and I’ve taken it on the chin from many people on this.”
“I believe that a cash bond system is by its very nature oppressive-based on a socioeconomic spectrum,” he said. “I think the standard should be release and people should only be detained if certain burdens are met. My opinion is money doesn’t make a community safe, the only part that makes people safe is conditions.”