Harris County Officials Are Split Over Lawsuit Challenging The Bail System

The County Attorney’s office argues Judge Lee Rosenthal’s ruling undermines the judges’ decision making power.


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Harris County officials are split over lawsuit challenging the bail system.
Harris County officials are split over lawsuit challenging the bail system.

Harris County is still facing a crucial lawsuit challenging its bail system and county officials are split about it.

The county appealed this month a preliminary ruling by federal Judge Lee Rosenthal.

The ruling ordered the county to release inmates charged with misdemeanor offenses who can’t afford cash bails within 24 hours of their arrest.

They would be released on what are known as personal recognizance bonds, while they wait for their trial.

For Robert Soard, who is the First Assistant County Attorney, the ruling undermines the discretion judges need.

"We feel that judges need to be able to make decisions based on the individual factors of each individual case and not one rule that says once you’ve been in jail 24 hours you get out of jail," notes Soard.

Republican members of the Harris County Commissioners Court, which is dominated by the GOP, have argued Judge Rosenthal's ruling interferes with Texas' law and have questioned its potential public safety consequences.

However, District Attorney Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who are Democrats, support the ruling and so does Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who is also a Democrat and voted against appealing the ruling.

Nonetheless, Ellis downplays the politics.

"It’s not a partisan issue at all," Ellis tells Houston Public Media "and it really demeans it when people try to give the impression it has something to do with somebody’s party."

"I am in favor of the county settling the lawsuit, they should have done it a

long time ago. It’s a very easy proposition: you have got to have some indication of someone’s ability to pay, their financial resources," added Ellis.

Judge Rosenthal's ruling hasn't gone into effect for now because the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a temporary stay.

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