On Wednesday, Harris County Judge Glenn Devlin released nearly all of the juvenile defendants he presided over the day after losing his election to Democrat Natalia Oakes.
Devlin released approx. 10-12 defendants after asking them only a single question, according to public defender Steve Halpert. Many were accused of violent crimes.
“‘If I release you, will you go out and murder anybody?’ And so, if the juvenile said ‘No,’ they were released,” said Halpert, whose client was released by Devlin. “Judge Devlin would never normally ask that question of a juvenile. This was unusual.”
Devlin’s reputation as a judge was of being “tough on crime.” A week before Election Day, the Houston Chronicle found during an investigation that Devlin and his two fellow family judges presided over nearly all juvenile cases in Harris County, or one-fifth of the state’s juvenile population. The report found that 96% of the children sent to detention were minorities.
Republican campaigns in Harris County focused intently on labeling Democratic opponents as too lenient on violent criminals. Devlin was one of 59 Republican jurists in the county who were voted out during the midterm elections on Tuesday.
“I just think this was a post-election weird blip,” Halpert said. “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.”
Under state law, imprisoned juveniles whose cases are pending must have a hearing every 10 business days for a judge to dictate whether they should remain in detention.
Devlin reset all of today’s released defendants’ cases for Jan. 4, the same day Oakes officially replaces him.
The ACLU is demanding an investigation into Devlin’s behavior.
“We call on the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate Judge Devlin for violating the canons of judicial conduct. It is improper for a judge to make orders motivated by partisan interests or in spite as a result of his political loss,” said Sharon Watkins Jones, director of political strategies for the ACLU of Texas.
“I would not have expected that from a professional,” said Natalia Oakes, the Democrat who will replace Devlin.
Nathan Wellman is a Grit Post contributing editor in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @LIGHTNINGWOW. You can also email him at info AT gritpost DOT com.