Of­fi­cials dis­pute ‘mass’ re­leases by judge

Court ad­min­is­tra­tors ob­ject to de­scrip­tion of ac­tions taken at ju­ve­niles’ hear­ings

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Keri Blakinger

Two days af­ter a Har­ris County judge who lost a bid for re-elec­tion made waves by ask­ing a string of ju­ve­nile de­fen­dants whether they planned to kill any­one be­fore let­ting them go, court ad­min­is­tra­tors put out a state­ment dis­put­ing the de­scrip­tion of “whole­sale” re­leases and high­light­ing the num­ber of kids de­tained.

“De­spite many me­dia re­ports, there was no ‘mass’ or ‘whole­sale’ re­lease of de­tained ju­ve­niles dur­ing Novem­ber 7, 2018, docket in the 313th Dis­trict Court,” the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fice of the Dis­trict Courts wrote in an un­signed state­ment re­leased late Fri­day.

Ju­ve­nile Judge Glenn Devlin has not com­mented pub­licly on the re­leases and did not show up for court the fol­low­ing day. In court, his co­or­di­na­tor wouldn’t say where he was, whether it was a planned absence, or when he might be back.

The furor be­gan Wed­nes­day morn­ing when — to the sur­prise of at­tor­neys present — the long­time Repub­li­can ju­rist re­leased most of the de­fen­dants ap­pear­ing be­fore him for de­ten­tion hear­ings.

“He was re­leas­ing ev­ery­body,” said pub­lic de­fender Steven Halpert, who was in the 313th court that morn­ing. “Ap­par­ently he was say­ing that’s what the vot­ers wanted.”

Pros­e­cu­tors begged the judge not to let out the young de­fen­dants, and Har­ris County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Kim Ogg later con­demned the re­leases.

“We op­pose the whole­sale re­lease of vi­o­lent of­fend­ers at any age,” she said Wed­nes­day. “This could en­dan­ger the pub­lic.”

As pre­vi­ously re­ported, the judge let out seven kids — in­clud­ing four charged with ag­gra­vated rob­bery — dur­ing de­ten­tion hear­ings. By law, youths who are wait­ing in lo­cal lock­ups be­fore their cases are re­solved are en­ti­tled to de­ten­tion hear­ings ev­ery 10 work­ing days to de­cide whether they need to stay be­hind bars or can safely be re­leased un­der su­per­vi­sion.

It’s not ab­nor­mal for Devlin to some­times re­lease ju­ve­niles fac­ing se­ri­ous charges, as long as they’ve be­haved in de­ten­tion and have ad­e­quate su­per­vi­sion in place on the out­side, ac­cord­ing to Halpert.

“He’s not one of those that never re­leases a kid charged with an ag­gra­vated rob­bery,” he said. “But no­body has seen this be­fore.”

The court of­fice’s re­lease stressed that, aside from the seven re­leases, six kids sched­uled for de­ten­tion hear­ings that morn­ing re­mained in lock-up. How­ever, it was not im­me­di­ately clear whether those six chil­dren ac­tu­ally had de­ten­tion hear­ings or waived them. Halpert said that prac­tice is not un­com­mon.

In its state­ment, the court of­fice also claimed that the judge did not let out any chil­dren with­out par­ents present.

“Re­ports that Judge Devlin re­leased ju­ve­nile re­spon­dents with­out par­ents present, with­out ac­cess to men­tal health ser­vices, and/or other pro­tec­tive pa­ram­e­ters is in­ac­cu­rate,” the court state­ment said. “All seven ju­ve­niles re­leased on Novem­ber 7, 2018, were re­leased to par­ents or le­gal guardians who agreed to pro­vide 24hour su­per­vi­sion.”

Though he said that he could not speak in de­tail about spe­cific cases, Chief Pub­lic De­fender Alex Bunin dis­puted that claim, cit­ing one in­stance in which a child was let go with­out a par­ent present and an­other in which an in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled child was re­leased to an in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled par­ent with no su­per­vi­sion plan in place.

The dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice did not of­fer any response to the court state­ment, which also de­tailed re­lease con­di­tions for some of the ju­ve­niles. It’s not clear whether those con­di­tions were in place at the time of the chil­dren’s re­lease or added later.

Cases for all of the kids re­leased, ac­cord­ing to Halpert, were re­set for Jan. 4 — the first Fri­day af­ter the new judge takes over.

The State Com­mis­sion on Ju­di­cial Con­duct pre­vi­ously de­clined to com­ment or clar­ify whether Devlin’s ac­tions would con­sti­tute any vi­o­la­tion of ju­di­cial canons, but the ACLU of Texas called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and said it was weigh­ing its op­tions to take ac­tion on the mat­ter.

“We call on the Texas Com­mis­sion on Ju­di­cial Con­duct to in­ves­ti­gate Judge Devlin for vi­o­lat­ing the canons of ju­di­cial con­duct,” said Sharon Watkins Jones, ACLU of Texas di­rec­tor of po­lit­i­cal strate­gies. “It is im­proper for a judge to make or­ders mo­ti­vated by par­ti­san in­ter­ests or spite as a re­sult of his po­lit­i­cal loss.”

The out­go­ing ju­rist — who on Tues­day lost his bench to Demo­crat Natalia Oakes — 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.

A Hous­ton Chron­i­cle in­ves­ti­ga­tion last month found that Devlin and Judge John Phillips ac­counted for more than one-fifth of all chil­dren sent to the state’s ju­ve­nile pris­ons last year. The two ju­rists not only sent more teens to ju­ve­nile pri­son, but they also sent them younger and for less se­ri­ous of­fenses than the county’s third ju­ve­nile court, where Judge Mike Sch­nei­der pre­sides.

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