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    Logo: State of Texas Texas Senate

Senator Bettencourt Says Overreaching County Orders Must Be Reigned In

Excessive jail time in Dallas’ Luther prosecution highlights need for rapid appeal to higher courts…legislation coming
Senator Bettencourt plans to file this legislation in the upcoming Legislative Session.

Houston, TX - Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is strongly speaking out to condemn yet another overreach of an activist judge regarding the jailing of Dallas business owner Shelley Luther who was trying to earn a living by operating her salon during COVID-19. Following a condescending and demeaning diatribe, Judge Eric Moyé held Shelley Luther in contempt and sentenced her to seven days in county jail with a $7,000 fine.

"This is preposterous public policy," said Senator Bettencourt. "While the county has been pushing to let inmates out of jail, Shelley Luther is being thrown in jail just for trying to feed her family!  This is not a police state and we should not be jailing Texans for petty violations like this one." 

While Dallas County is busy trying to lock up a small business owner, Harris County has been using COVID-19 as a pretext to attempt the mass release of inmates from the county jail. Unfortunately, this type of overreach by local officials is occurring all too often which prompted Senator Bettencourt and 9 other elected officials to file an amicus brief to oppose the mass release of inmates in Harris County. (https://bit.ly/2L476l2)

In previous comments, Governor Greg Abbott has made clear that he did not want to see people fined or jailed for non-compliance with Executive Orders.  He also has modified his order to allow additional businesses, such as salons, to reopen on Friday, May 8th. In support of Ms. Luther, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick even went so far to pay the outrageous fine imposed by Judge Moyé and offered to stay on house arrest in her place. Attorney General Ken Paxton has also spoken out on behalf of Ms. Luther’s immediate release calling Judge Moyé decision “a shameful abuse of judicial discretion.” 

Unlike the President, the Texas Governor does not have broad clemency powers and can only pardon individuals recommended by the Board of Pardons and Paroles due to a 1936 constitutional amendment. This amendment constrains the Governor in cases where judicial officers abuse their discretion as Judge Moyé has done in this case

“With the top 3 elected officials in Texas all weighing in on Shelley Luther, its time to back them up with some solutions,” said Senator Bettencourt. “I will be filing legislation and a constitutional amendment to ensure that Governor has pardoning power on emergency orders overreaches and the AG can appeal directly to the highest court!” he said.

In time sensitive cases, the Attorney General should also be empowered to intervene. To avoid unnecessary delay in overturning ruling by judges on emergency orders, the Attorney General should be able to file an emergency appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal or the Texas Supreme Court, whichever is appropriate. Ms. Luther should not need to wait on the lengthy appeals process to have her absurd sentence overruled.

Senator Bettencourt plans to file this legislation in the upcoming Legislative Session.

The Marlin Democrat

251 Live Oak St
Marlin, TX 76661
Phone: (254) 883-2554
Fax:(254) 883-6553