Commission: 11 Texas judges broke law by denying free bail

HOUSTON (AP) — Texas' judicial ethics commission has found 11 current and former judges broke the law by indiscriminately denying free bail to thousands of poor people charged with crimes.

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The State Commission on Judicial Conduct this week publicly admonished the group of Harris County district judges, most of whom have left office, the Houston Chronicle reported. The commission ruled that the judges willfully violated court rules and state law by instructing court officers to routinely deny no-cash bail to most or all newly arrested defendants.

The practice "cast public discredit upon the judiciary," the Commission wrote in each of the rulings.

The findings of the misconduct probe, which was launched in secret early last year, comes after eight of the jurists lost re-election bids or declined to run for office again.

The public reprimand is unusual and comes as Harris County, one of America's most populous counties, works to settle a 2017 lawsuit that claimed officials were violating defendants' constitutional rights by broadly denying so-called "personal recognizance" bonds.

A lawyer for the judges, Nicole DeBorde, told the Chronicle that the commission's decision was "incorrect" and "based on a misunderstanding of the law surrounding this very complicated issue of bail."

DeBorde said her clients plan to appeal.

On Thursday, former Judge Michael McSpadden stood by his decision to have magistrates deny all requests for personal recognizance bonds, even if doing so broke the law.

"I still feel the same way," McSpadden told the Houston paper. "I, as the elected judge, would like to make the decision on free bonds for accused felons rather than turn those important duties over to the magistrates."

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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