Author Topic: Harris County reaches landmark settlement over ‘unconstitutional’ bail system  (Read 121 times)

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Offline Elderberry

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Houston Chronicle by  Gabrielle Banks and Zach Despart 7/26/2019

A long-awaited settlement in Harris County’s historic bail lawsuit won tentative approval Friday from all parties, setting up a possible end to a contentious system that kept poor people behind bars on low-level charges while those with money could walk free.

The agreement — if approved by a federal judge and county officials — would formally adopt the judge’s findings and modernize the way local officials handle bail hearings for the steady stream of people arrested every day on misdemeanors.

Key reforms in the lengthy consent decree include revised judicial protocol, access to more public defense services, open court hours for defendants to clear or prevent warrants, as well as text reminders about hearings and a bail education program for officials and the public. The county will have a court-appointed monitor for seven years to oversee implementation.

The county also would agree to pay about $4.7 million in legal costs for the plaintiffs, on top of the $9.1 million already spent to contest the lawsuit. An additional $2.1 million in legal fees has been waived by the Susman Godfrey firm.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who has championed bail and criminal justice reform for decades, called the agreement one of the highlights of his career.

“It’s a major civil rights victory that will have national implications,” Ellis said. “This fixes a broken system that has traditionally punished people based on how much money they have before they are convicted of a crime.”

The deal could provide a road map for other jurisdictions around the country to rethink their bail systems amid widespread overcrowding and a nationwide push for criminal justice reform.

Commissioners Court is set to vote Tuesday on the proposed deal. Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal could then consider approving it after a hearing Aug. 21.

Criminal Court at Law Judge Darrell Jordan, who took a leadership role in crafting the new plan, said the decision heralds a new day for defendants who often languish in custody.

“Today is a monumental day in Harris County,” said Jordan, the presiding misdemeanor judge. “I’m proud to say in Harris County, Texas, no one will ever sit in jail prior to a conviction because they are poor.”

More: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Harris-County-reaches-landmark-settlement-over-14188414.php
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