I saw an article in the Chron yesterday about bail reform stats. The stats show that misdemeanor bail reform has not caused any increase in crime as had been predicted by those who opposed bail reform. Now, the mostly poor people who get Pr bonds are not forced to plead guilty. As a result, the same people are overall getting better outcomes. That makes sense.
None of this would have been possible if the federal lawsuit had not been filed before the Honorable Lee Rosenthal. She heard all there was to hear about the misdemeanor court’s former odious practice of systematically denying Pr bonds. She rightfully condemned the practice. So we must be grateful that Judge Rosenthal heard enough to expose our former miserable system. We should also commend Judge Darrell Jordan who took the lead among the new judges in implementing bail reform. Following his leadership, misdemeanor courts all started implementing bail reform by systematically granting rather than systematically denying Pr bonds. So today, the misdemeanor “plea mill” which coerced pleas for years, is almost dead. That is good news for justice. There is still work to be done but great strides have been made in moving away from the cruelty of the misdemeanor plea mill.
Still, I cannot help but think there remains a great injustice.
During the “glory” days of the plea mill, defendants were systematically denied Pr bonds. As a result, thousands of defendants plead guilty as it was the fastest way to obtain their liberty. They plead guilty without regard to whether or not they really were factually guilty. As a result, thousands of mostly poor people were very likely saddled with misdemeanor convictions for crimes they did NOT commit. These mostly poor people got these convictions not because they committed a crime but rather because they had been subjected to the morally bankrupt “ plea mill”.
The injustice that remains is that these same mostly poor people must carry for life undeserved criminal records. These criminal records negatively impact the mostly poor people’s ability to obtain employment. The poor who live with these undeserved convictions, have an equally undeserved harder time in obtaining employment. The cruelty is they have a harder time escaping poverty not because they committed a crime but rather because they were victimized by the plea mill our former judiciary perpetuated.
This does not sit well with me. The former judges who perpetuated the plea mill go on with their lives as if they were not part of a horrible system. Also “lawyers” who daily aided and abetted the judiciary in imposing the plea mill, likewise merely go on with their lives unscathed.
I think justice would be served if these same former judges and “lawyers” worked to undo as many of the undeserved convictions they imposed as possible. Of course, that is
A pipe dream. That will not happen. For it to happen, our former misdemeanor judges would have to publicly acknowledge that what they did was wrong. That has never occurred and as near as I can tell, it will never occur.
The poor will continue to live with their undeserved convictions, while the former judiciary will continue to be mostly unrepentant about the vile system they perpetuated that victimized thousands of our fellow poor Houstonians.
Robb Fickman, Houston