Houston Matters

Local Judge Releases Juvenile Defendants En Masse After Losing Re-Election Bid

Before releasing them, Judge Glenn Devlin reportedly asked first whether they intended to kill anyone.

A day after losing his re-election bid, a local judge released nearly all of the juvenile defendants who appeared before him.

Judge Glenn Devlin asked whether they intended to kill anyone, before dismissing them from court, reported The Houston Chronicle. He allegedly said he was dismissing kids because it’s what voters wanted when they chose his opponent.

“When we started to hear that juveniles we’re being released in this sort of wholesale manner, with very little questioning, very little proffers of supervision, we realized something unusual was happening,” Steven Halpert, Juvenile Division Chief of the Harris County Public Defender’s office, told Houston Matters. “This is not something that anybody who’s practiced in that court, as I have for many years, has experienced. But then again, it’s the day after an election, in which the incumbent has been defeated. I don’t think I was expecting it to be a normal day — that’s never a normal day in a court.”

The juveniles faced charges ranging from misdemeanors to violent crimes. Judge Devlin also rescheduled their hearings for next year when Democrat Natalia Oakes takes his seat.

Halpert said it’s estimated that a total of seven defendants were released, though the exact number has not been officially confirmed. He said it’s not unusual to release juveniles charged with aggravated robberies if there is a supervision plan and the child has behaved well in the detention center. “I think it was just the manner in which it was done that was unusual,” he said.

In response to the incident, the ACLU of Texas has called for the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate Judge Devlin’s actions.

“We believe that justice should be dispensed on an individual basis, and that what he did appears to us to have the appearance of sour grapes due to a political loss,” Sharon Watkins Jones, director of political strategies for the ACLU of Texas, told Houston Matters. “We believe that in order to dispense justice fairly he needs to be deliberately fair, and take each individual case as it comes. While we want to reduce mass incarceration and reduce racial disparities, we know that that requires judges to look at people as individuals.”

Should Judges Run Based On Party Affiliation?

Judge Devlin was not alone in being voted out of office — all three of the juvenile judges in the county lost to Democrats, causing many to again raise questions about whether or not judges in Texas should have their party affiliation listed on the ballot. 

“There should not be a D or an R next to a judge’s name. The voters don’t know what these judges’ positions are,” Halpert said. “We saw 59 judges being swept out of office, obviously because they have an R after their name, and in previous elections, 20-30 years ago, if they had a D after their name they got swept out of the elections. We lost some really good judges.”

Robert Schuwerk, a professor emeritus at the University of Houston Law Center, echoed this sentiment: “What we have now is a system that does link judges in the minds of voters to broader political positions taken by the parties that they’re affiliated with, and they seem to expect judges to get in and carry out those sorts of political aspirations the same way as legislators or members of the executive branch of government would do,” he told Houston Matters. “And I think that that’s a very unfortunate.”

Listen to the full discussion in the Houston Matters audio above.

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