Case: Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association v. Abbott

20-02034 | Texas state trial court

Filed Date: April 8, 2020

Closed Date: Nov. 4, 2020

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

COVID-19 Summary: This is a challenge to the Texas governor's order to limit bail for detainees accused of violent offenses, filed by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and sixteen Harris County Judges. The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the order was unconstitutional, as well as a temporary and permanent injunction and a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting the defendants from enforcing it. On April 10, the court granted the TRO, but the Texas Supreme Court …

COVID-19 Summary: This is a challenge to the Texas governor's order to limit bail for detainees accused of violent offenses, filed by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and sixteen Harris County Judges. The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the order was unconstitutional, as well as a temporary and permanent injunction and a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting the defendants from enforcing it. On April 10, the court granted the TRO, but the Texas Supreme Court overturned the decision after finding that the judicial plaintiffs lacked standing and therefore lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The plaintiffs dismissed the case on November 4, 2020.


On April 8, 2020, the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, the Capital Area Private Defender Service, the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and several other organizations filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas, challenging Governor Abbott’s order to limit bail release across the state.

On March 29, Governor Abbott issued executive order GA-13, which removed the discretion from judges regarding who could receive personal bonds, and banned the use of personal bonds for certain detainees. Specifically, the order prohibited the no-cost release of people accused of violent offenses, or those previously convicted of a violent felony. However, those who were able to pay bail could still be released on personal bonds regardless of their charges.

The plaintiffs alleged that the order created a “wealth-based system” of release and discriminated against those unable to afford cash bail. Further, the plaintiffs noted that GA-13 worsened prison overcrowding by holding individuals in pretrial detention at a time when jails populations already faced heightened susceptibility to COVID-19. The plaintiffs alleged that GA-13 suspended the Texas Code of Criminal Code Procedure pertaining to release and the discretion of judges on release decisions. The plaintiffs also alleged that the defendant overstepped this statutory and constitutional authority as Governor in violation of the Texas Disaster Act 1975 and the Texas Constitution, which states that the power to suspend laws lies with the legislature.

Included in the group of plaintiffs were sixteen of Harris County’s judges, who sued in response to GA-13’s changes in rules regarding judges’ decisions regarding pre-trial bail. First, the judicial plaintiffs alleged that GA-13 improperly deprived them of the judicial discretion to consider pre-trial released granted by the Texas constitution. Second, the judges contended that the order caused confusion among the courts, as judges were forced to choose between applying federal consent decree, mandating individualized bail decisions, versus GA-13, which prohibited all discretion on personal bonds. Shortly after Governor Abbott’s order, in a separate case, County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued an order to release pretrial detention inmates on April 1. On April 3, another Harris County judge blocked the release of the individuals specified in Judge Hidaglo’s decision,resulting in a conflicting order. Additionally, another competing federal civil rights request was filed, seeking an emergency injunction for those being held pretrial due to a lack of bail funds.

The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that GA-13 was unconstitutional, as well as a temporary and permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from enforcing GA-13. The plaintiffs also sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) to preserve the status quo, pending the decision on the validity of GA-13 and attorney fees. The plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Fair Defense Project. The case was assigned to Judge Lee Rosenthal.

On April 10, the district court granted the TRO, citing unconstitutional provisions and overreach of executive power by the Governor. The following day, the defendants filed an appeal to the Texas Supreme court, seeking to vacate the district court’s TRO. That same day, April 11, the Texas Supreme Court granted the stay, reviving Abbott’s order. The plaintiffs submitted a response in opposition to the appellants’ writ of mandamus on April 13.

On April 23, the Texas Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus and overturned the district court’s TRO. The Supreme Court decided that the sixteen judicial plaintiffs’ alleged injury due to GA-13 was too generalized to create a legal standing. Therefore, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to rule in favor of the judges’ authority to make individualized bail decisions when the TRO was issued.

On November 4, 2020, the plaintiffs requested to dismiss the case, which was granted; the case is now closed.

Summary Authors

Averyn Lee (11/6/2020)

People


Judge(s)

Livingston, Lora (Texas)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Ago, Arthur (District of Columbia)

Buskey, Brandon (New York)

Caspar, Edward G. (District of Columbia)

Dixon, Karly Jo (Texas)

Donatti, David A. (Texas)

Fennell, Nathan (Texas)

Fraser, Rachel (Texas)

Gerrick, Emily (Texas)

Klosterboer, Brian (Texas)

Judge(s)

Livingston, Lora (Texas)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Ago, Arthur (District of Columbia)

Buskey, Brandon (New York)

Caspar, Edward G. (District of Columbia)

Dixon, Karly Jo (Texas)

Donatti, David A. (Texas)

Fennell, Nathan (Texas)

Fraser, Rachel (Texas)

Gerrick, Emily (Texas)

Klosterboer, Brian (Texas)

Pinon, Adriana (Texas)

Ryan, Vince (Texas)

Segura, Andre (Texas)

Woods, Andrea (New York)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

20-02034

Plaintiffs' Original Petition and Application for Temporary Restraining Order, Temporary Injunction, and Permanent Injunction

April 8, 2020

April 8, 2020

Complaint

20-02034

Temporary Restraining Order & Order Setting Hearing for Temporary Injunction

April 10, 2020

April 10, 2020

Order/Opinion

20-0291

[Opinion]

In Re Gregg Abbott, Govenor of the State of Texas, and Ken Paxton, Attorney General of the State of Texas, Relators

Texas state supreme court

601 S.W.3d 802, 2020 WL 1943226

April 23, 2020

April 23, 2020

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated July 27, 2022, 3:01 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Texas

Case Type(s):

Criminal Justice (Other)

Special Collection(s):

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Key Dates

Filing Date: April 8, 2020

Closing Date: Nov. 4, 2020

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and sixteen Harris County Judges

Plaintiff Type(s):

Non-profit NON-religious organization

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Legal Services/Legal Aid

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Governor of Texas , State

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Availably Documents:

Complaint (any)

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: None Yet / None

Nature of Relief:

None

Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order

Source of Relief:

None

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief denied

Preliminary relief granted

Issues

General:

Conditions of confinement

Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond

Crowding:

Crowding / caseload

COVID-19:

Mitigation Denied

Mitigation Granted

Mitigation Requested

Release Denied

Release Requested