When Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg took the stage at Texas Southern University’s auditorium on August 25, emphatic boos from several members of the public set the stage for a two-hour panel on the county’s and nation’s approach to bail reform.

The panel’s back-and-forth has characterized discussion in recent years around Harris County’s bail practices. Crime-wise, the county has operated and continues to operate on a cash bond system. But cash bail for misdemeanors came under scrutiny in 2017 after U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal found the county’s policy of using cash bail to hold people pending trial. in violation of the US Constitution.

Elizabeth Rossi represented plaintiffs in this class action lawsuit, including Maranda Lynn ODonnell, a single mother who was arrested for driving with an invalid license and held in jail for three days after being unable to post $2,500 cash bond. $.

“The heart of our demands [was] that it’s a really big deal to take someone’s liberty away,” said Rossi, director of strategic initiatives for Civil Rights Corps, a DC-based nonprofit that challenges injustices in the legal system. Community impact.

While the trial was underway, the 2018 midterm elections saw the county’s correctional court judges go from all-Republican to all-Democrats, with some new judges taking progressive positions on debentures and low-income bonds. value, according to Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University.

The newly elected Democratic cohort settled the lawsuit, culminating in the November 2019 ODonnell Consent Executive Order that eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor arrests. Now, with elections approaching for 15 of Harris County’s 16 criminal courts, which hear Class A and Class B misdemeanor cases, Jones said the debate over the effectiveness of the county’s reforms could turn into a campaigns for all court races, including those for district courts, which deal with crimes.

“You’re definitely going to see Republican judicial candidates as a group using the idea of ​​bail felons…and bail felons in particular. [personal recognizance] bonds as one of their main campaign messages,” Jones said.

Path to ODonnell Decree