Harris County

Bondsmen Sue Harris County Judges Over New Rule To Release Misdemeanor Defendants

A policy set to go into effect this week means approximately 85 percent of misdemeanor defendants would qualify for personal recognizance bonds.

A bail bond office in Houston, near Minute Maid Park.

Three Houston bail bond companies have sued Harris County’s 15 misdemeanor judges and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez over a new rule that will release all individuals arrested for a misdemeanor on no-cash bonds, with some exceptions.

The new policy, known as Local Rule 9.1, was written by the county’s misdemeanor judges who were elected last November and will start being implemented Saturday, February 16. The lawsuit accuses Gonzalez of being complicit with the judges.

Individuals arrested for domestic violence, repeat drunken driving offenses and bond violations would not qualify for automatic release. Those defendants would have to appear before a judge within 48 hours to determine their risk, but they might also qualify for personal recognizance bonds in some cases.

Under the new rule, approximately 85 percent of people arrested on misdemeanors would automatically qualify for release on no-cash bonds, according to the county’s pretrial services division.

Arguments of the lawsuit

The lawsuit contends the rule effectively denies defendants their constitutional right to bail by removing it as an option.

The lawsuit also argues defendants have a right to use the services of a bondsman, when allowed under the Texas constitution and state statute.

Another argument is that judges should have discretion to set bond and the lawsuit alleges the new rule takes away that discretion in violation of Texas law, as Houston Chronicle reporter Gabrielle Banks told Houston Matters on Friday.

Banks said the bail bond industry is in the cross-hairs if poor people are no longer subject to costly bonds, especially for misdemeanors. “It’s going to take a bite out of the bail industry and the bail industry is watching very, very closely to see what happens,” she added.

Livelihoods

The lawsuit also argues the new rule threatens bondsmen’s livelihoods.

The bondsmen asked the judge to issue an injunction to prevent the rule from going into effect, but that request was denied.

The Office of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, which represents the misdemeanor judges, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.

Harris County’s cash bail system has been under litigation in federal court since 2016 and a settlement is currently being negotiated.

You can read a copy of the bondsmen lawsuit here:

 

You can read a copy of Local Rule 9.1 here:

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Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz

Digital News Producer

Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz is originally from Madrid (Spain). He worked for several years in his home country and gained experience in all platforms of journalism, from wire services to print, as well as broadcast and digital reporting. In 2001, Al came to the United States to pursue a Master’s degree...

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