Friday, December 02, 2016

Complaint vs. magistrate judges over assembly-line #bail hearings

Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire filed complaints this week against three Harris County magistrate judges -  Eric Hagstette, Jill Wallace, and Joseph Licata III - after the Houston Chronicle published video of the assembly-line justice which has become routine in Texas' largest county. See his press release. Here's the video in question:

Reported the Chron's Lise Olsen:
The videos of hearings recorded in May right before the lawsuit was filed show that each case takes just minutes. Some get seconds. 
Almost no one wins pretrial release. Not the mentally ill. Not first-time offenders. Not people who dare to address the judges and request consideration because of poverty, jobs or parenting duties. 
Hearings are not attended by defense attorneys; typically just prosecutors and hearing officers are present. 
Activists argue that Harris County should provide both defense attorneys and alternatives at bond hearings for the mentally ill and for first-time or youthful offenders, and expand the use of personal bonds.
Two of the judges in these videos, Hagstette and Licata, weren't satisfied with denying defendants bond, they had to lord their authority over them. Licata increased a woman's bail because she answered "Yeah" instead of "yes." Pleas of special family circumstances or potential lost jobs fell on deaf ears. One defendant tried to explain why he should be released was told by the judge to save it for his defense attorney. Of course, the whole point of the lawsuit is that indigent defendants don't get a defense attorney at bail hearings, so the man had no one to represent him before the court to whom the judge would listen.

By all accounts, judges in Harris County are doubling down on litigation, throwing big bucks at private attorneys to defend these practices instead of reforming their probably unconstitutional bail system. It's hard to understand, after seeing these difficult-to-watch videos, what greater good or core values they think they're defending.

MORE: From the Houston Chronicle.


David White (aka Caged Monkey #12) said...

What are the chances this is happening statewide? 90% 100%

I spoke to a JP in Collin a few months ago. He was a little arrogant about JPs (he wants them all to be attorneys) and said some thing to effect "JPs shouldn't be some retired lunch lady, we need p more professionalism." In my county of Rockwall, I believe its the same situation as Harris. We have 4 JPs who do all magistrate work. I believe 2 are pretty fair, but two of them consider themselves to be Judge Dredd. None have any background in law, criminal justice, etc. (Not that I think it 100% necessary) but magistrates should be (especially elected) fair and unpartial and understanding and have some knowledge and skepticism about the system. In Rockwall all JPs have agreements with the DA and Judges about what bonds will be based on the crime regardless of circumstance. Sounds like a cattle call. (side note, I ran for JP and have a pretty good relationship with our DA, during the campaign she asked me "If you win, are you going to let everyone go free?!?" I smiled...)

Most Judges and JPs are not impartial and lean WAY too much towards the state. And magistrates think they can use bonds as pre-punishment,

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine was thrown into jail earlier this year. Her crime was asking the judge three times what law did she break. The judge threw her in jail from Friday afternoon until Monday for contempt of court. The judge had told her not to ask that question, but she did anyway. If a friend, a court watcher, had not been present then her family would not of known what happened to her. Contempt of court has to be done by trail and a different judge has to hear it. This judge just had her dragged out of court and thrown in jail. Then the prosecutor and judge tried getting her indicted after she served the time. Anyone who is familiar with traffic laws in Texas knows that the speed signs do not apply to non-commercial traffic. also, speeding tickets are not a jailable offense.

Texas Transportation Code, Chapter 201, Sec. 201.904. SPEED SIGNS. The department shall erect and maintain on the highways and roads of this state appropriate signs that show the maximum lawful speed for commercial motor vehicles, truck tractors, truck trailers, truck semitrailers, and motor vehicles engaged in the business of transporting passengers for compensation or hire (buses).

Texas actually has a prima facia speed limit of prudent and reasonable for the condition. However it is a 9 billion dollar a year profit in speeding tickets in Texas alone. The courts don't want people to point out that they are not in commercial traffic.

Miketrials said...

"It's hard to understand, after seeing these difficult-to-watch videos, what greater good or core values they think they're defending."

1. Their paychecks.
2. The prestige of having a position with such a high-sounding title.
3. The ability to mete out unmerited abuse, with little recourse by the victim.

If I lived in Texas, I'd vote for Sen. Whitmire.

Anonymous said...

It seems to be in most County's that these "Judges" must feel so inferior that they take it out on the people that come before them. Montague County, Texas has been a great example of injustice.

Anonymous said...

I viewed the video of these PC hearings and aren't disgusted with them as everyone else apparently is. I guess I'm a heartless prosecutor. Some of these defendants had prior convictions or were on bond while committing the new offense.

Regardless, these magistrates, who are not elected, are acting in accordance with the guidelines set out by the Harris County elected judges. If you want to complain about the denial of PR bonds, your complaint should be directed towards the elected judges, not their subordinates, who are generally not inclined towards PR bonds.

If you want to complain about the raising of bond because of female defendant answering "yeah", I guess you can, but this is but a taste of what will happen when that defendant actually reaches the courtroom and faces a real judge.

Jefe said...

Anon 9:56, it is not merely that you are heartless. That is self-evident. Worse, is that you are a prosecutor that does not know the law. The U.S. Constitution requires judges to consider a bailable defendant's ability to pay as well as consider their individual circumstances. Being jerks is simply further proof they (and you) do not care about the law.

Anonymous said...

Jefe, you mention the US Constitution along with the ability to pay and individual circumstances as if those are the only things a judge or magistrate is supposed to consider in setting bond amounts or granting PR bonds. However, those are not the first or even the most important factor to consider according to case law. For you to claim otherwise reveals your ignorance of the law.

It's easy to sit back and say that the magistrates and I do not know the law or are jerks. However, you have never borne and will never bear the burden of having to live with the possible consequences of some defendant who gets a PR bond to go out and commit a serious offense while on the PR bond not opposed to by the prosecutor or granted by the judge. While you might say that that will never happen with a person charged with a misdemeanor, it's never a certainty. I imagine that the magistrates or judges don't want to be connected to that one in a million case where that one defendant who they released on the PR bond gets out and then commits a murder, capital murder, sexual assault, or kidnapping. In that scenario, both you and the public will be screaming about the irresponsible magistrate or judge who should have known better than granting the PR bond or reducing the bond amount for that defendant, not commending that magistrate or judge who knew that the US Constitution required consideration of ability to pay and individual circumstances in determining bail. I think it's not naive to say that a judge or magistrate will err on the side of self-preservation by not granting a PR bond or reducing the bond according to the bond schedule.

While it may not be ideal that the dangerous and the less dangerous get lumped in together for bail evaluation purposes, until you can provide judges or magistrates with more certainty about this possible scenario or lessen their discretion in granting PR bond or setting bond amounts, you will still continue to see what you see in the videos.

Anon 9:56

George said...

@ 10:33 PM,

These elected or appointed officials are required to take an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States as well as the state constitution. All individuals are to be considered innocent until guilt is proven in a court of law -- or a plea bargain is reached. That's pretty simple for even someone such as yourself to understand is it not?!

People can "what if" all day long but that in and of itself does not prove a single thing. To purport that a person "could" do something as an excuse to withhold bail should be a criminal offense and someone such as Senator Whitmire should introduce legislation to codify it as such.

You see, people such as yourself, quite a few if not most DA's, quite a few if not most magistrates and judges think that you are above the law since you administer so-called justice that is really thinly disguised as methods to cover your own asses and to hell with those that are adversely affected by your actions. Everyone should be held accountable for their actions -- especially DA's and others who make life changing rulings to those who come before them. I'm rapidly losing any respect that I ever had for those involved in the prosecution and punishment machinery of this country.

May God have mercy on your despicable excuse for a life that desperately attempts to pretend it has any humanity associated with it.

Anonymous said...


Wow. With such burden, why allow anyone to bond? Moreover, why not just lock everyone up?

Gosh, we can't have your conscious bother you so.

Anonymous said...

George, you get angry and spout off about people not upholding the constitution or statutes yet have no clue about how the CJ system works. While "innocent until proven guilty" is a principle for a criminal trial, the constitution and statutes do not establish that principle as a factor in bond considerations, because everyone (defendants accused not just of misdemeanors but also of capital murder, rape, agg robbery, and child sex abuse) are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The defendants committing the egregious crimes have the same presumption of innocence but can't be treated the same as everyone else for bond purposes.

You claim that people like me and judges view themselves above the law and then disingenuously wish that God have mercy on my "despicable excuse for a life" because you don't know the law and can't make an informed, non-emotional argument supporting your position. It's okay, I am an adult and can handle it.

Nonetheless, denying (or granting) a PR bond or reducing (or raising) a bond amount is all with the lawful discretion of the magistrate or judge. Either denying a PR bond or not reducing a bond amount is not some act that is "above the law" or in violation of the oath to uphold the constitution. When you can point to the constitutional or statutory law that is violated by judges and magistrates denying PR bonds or not reducing bond amounts, at that point you might have a legitimate argument to make.

Anon 9:56/10:33

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I didn't really feel sorry for these individuals, except maybe for the mentally ill guy who could barely stand on his own two feet. The guy who stole $53 worth of merchandise and got his bond set at $15,000? Well that guy was a habitual thief with SIX prior convictions! I think the video exemplifies one of the psychological sequelae of having to deal with criminal defendants day in and day out: One tends to become jaded and impatient. Everyone seems to have a sob story as to why they should be released without having to post bail. And of course, the "assembly line" setup doesn't help much. All the more reason to use some kind of assessment of risk using OBJECTIVE criteria to guide judges' bond decisions.

Anonymous said...

How about free speech violation punishing her for saying yeah instead of yes with no intent to disrespect the judge and clueless that she had offended him. Bonds are not supposed to be punitive, but to insure appearance and protect the people from dangerous defendants. Judges do not have discretion to use bonds to punish people for some perceived slight. They do have power to hold in contempt, but even there the defendant does have some recourse when the judge does not follow the law in finding contempt.

Anonymous said...

"Free speech violation" -- that's a reach at best. Why not argue that she shouldn't be arrested for possession of marijuana because it violates her right to freedom of expression? Why not argue that she should never have been arrested for open warrants because it violates her inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? You can always argue in a manner that connects some violation of a right to anything that you don't like. However, that doesn't make the argument any more legitimate.

FarmerChet said...

Exact same issues in Travis County as well, and I have seen this deporable mis-use of the courts by actual Judges, and not just JP's.

But, with people like @Anon 10:33 PM its clear that The System will not tolerate Guilty until Proven Innocent, and defendants will not be allowed to ask questions or speak in a way that would irritate the prosecution.

Twist this into whatever works in your world, but its not justice, and its not for We The People. It is the exact definition of Guilty until proven otherwise.

Thank you for our prison planet @Anon 10:33 PM. Hope you made good money off all the plebs.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:56

I'm pretty sure the justice department is working on the constitutional question now. I believe they disagree with at least some of your statements.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 7:27

You may be right that DOJ disagrees with my statements; most of the people in this forum apparently disagree with my statements. The real issue is whether there are illegalities or federal rights violations in the bail process which will cause DOJ to act. In my opinion, DOJ will stay out of this fray. This bail issue is one that must be dealt with by the Legislature, as suggested by Anon 1:52.

@Farmer Chet,
I guess you can be emotional and demeaning if you like. You can use all the sound bites about "guilty until proven innocent" till the cows come home. But if you don't recognize the real issue at hand in order to fix it, you'll never go very far other than to work yourself up into a lather.

The fact of the matter is I feel great sympathy for those who are arrested for a minor crime but can't get some kind of personal bond. Most of these folks are decent hard-working people. The fix for this problem is that the law needs to be changed to require a judge to evaluate bail based on some objective criteria or take away some of the judge's discretion when dealing with bail for minor crimes.

To the relief of most of the people in this forum, this is the last I'll say on this matter. Thanks GFB for letting me say my pieces.


Anonymous said...

Bad analogies.Saying "yeah" is not a violation of any statute and the bond was used as an instrument of oppression to stop her from saying "yeah". Contempt would be the proper vehicle, but only after giving a clear instruction to not answer with "yeah", which he did not do. Your other examples involve people violating laws which have not been found to violate the Constitution. Your analogies would be streaching whereas saying yeah with no intent to disrespect or hinder the proceding is streaching nothing. The judge disrespected her rights and the Constitution while she did not disrespect him at all. He was looking to be offended where no offense was intended. He absolutely used the bond to oppress her.

Anonymous said...

Im so Glad you caught them,just like Montgomery County the people were in more then one jury selection in a day, they were even being email for jury.

Anonymous said...

This has also happen in Montgomery County in Civil Commitment where it is Double Jeopardy and the DA only speaks of the past convictions of what they were already convicted. They pay the Doctors to say what the court wants to hear and it is not done in trust, They place these men with a Health Behavior problem but Tdcj whom is a part of the panel has these men as low risk offenders.Whitmire needs to change that Program..the men are in a treatment which never lets them out, why are we taxpayers paying this? These people have been in treatment since 1990 yet it is not working because alot of them dont have a mental issue.