A judge in Harris County, Texas, responded to getting voted out of office by releasing every defendant who appeared before him Wednesday.
“It was like everyone got a get out of jail card.” an informant in the court said.
“I think this was a post-election weird blip,” said public defender Steve Halpert. “He made a comment, ‘This is obviously what the voters wanted’ and I think there’s an implication by electing all Democratic judges, there’s this belief that Democratic judges are going to be soft on crime.”
Devlin and two other county judges lost to Democrats on Election Day, and Devlin apparently wanted to make a statement to spite those who voted him out.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Devlin had a reputation for being tough on crime:
“The longtime Republican jurist — whose seat was among 59 swept by Democrats in Tuesday’s election — is one of two juvenile court judges in Harris County whose track records favoring incarceration contributed heavily to doubling the number of kids Harris County sent to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department in recent years, even as those figures fell in the rest of the state.”
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg didn’t find Devlin’s stunt amusing, however, considering some of the juveniles he released were charged with violent crimes such as aggravated robbery.
“We oppose the wholesale release of violent offenders at any age,” Ogg said in a statement, expressing concern that Devlin’s move could “endanger the public.”
The American Civil Liberties Union is requesting an investigation into Devlin’s conduct.
“It is improper for a judge to make orders motivated by partisan interests or in spite as a result of his political loss,” Sharon Jones of the ACLU said, according to KTRK.
Steve Halpert, the chief of the juvenile division of the Harris County Public Defender’s office in Houston, said that he had previously asked Devlin three times to release a client accused of aggravated robbery, to no avail. On Wednesday, Devlin granted the request unceremoniously.
“’If I release you, are you going to go out and kill anybody?’” Halpert quoted Devlin as saying to his client and others.
The defendants, of course, said no.
‘Okay, you’re released,’” the judge would then say.
Halpert said it was not behavior he was used to from Devlin and said he believed the judge was trying to make a point.
“I heard him in the court tell other lawyers, ‘Hey, look, this is obviously what the voters wanted.’ I think that was a little bit tongue in cheek,” Halpert said.
Republicans in Harris County had run ads in advance of the election warning that Democrats would be soft on crime.
The released defendants will have their cases heard on Jan. 4, when Democratic Judge Natalia Oakes takes over. So that get out of jail free card is only good through the 2018 Holiday Season.
In Texas, minors between the ages of 10 and 17 accused of crimes can be held in detention or released to their families at the discretion of judges as their cases are resolved, according to ABC 13. Many of the juveniles who were released were accused of violent crimes, it reported.
“We oppose the wholesale release of violent offenders at any age,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “This could endanger the public.”
Alex Bunin, the county’s chief public defender said that he was confused by the judge’s actions.
“I’m not sure that I can wrap my arms around what he’s actually doing,” he said. “It’s a huge change, and the only thing that has happened is that he was not elected, so I don’t know what to attribute it to other than that.”
Criminal justice advocates also were critical of Devlin’s decisions.