Plan could ease crowding, long lines and delay at Harris County Criminal Courthouse

Long lines at criminal courthouse in downtown Houston

August 8, 2013 3:40:49 PM PDT
A madhouse at the courthouse -- overflowing crowds, problems with the elevators and serious security concerns. Now a new plan is in the works that might help.

The problem is so bad that some defendants say they've been sent right to jail after getting stuck in the lobby and becoming late for court.

This is not a new problem, but it is getting worse, especially for attorneys and their clients.

At 8:30am Thursday, Melvin Haris was supposed to be in court. Instead, he was in line, still waiting to get upstairs.

"I stayed out here like an hour and 30 minutes just trying to get in the court," another man said.

The situation has become the norm at Harris County's Criminal Courthouse. Still, some judges have no mercy.

"I went in the courtroom and the judge snatched my bond and told me I was late," the man said.

The man had his $30,000 bond revoked. It was raised to $50,000 and he spent two weeks in jail, all because he was late.

"They didn't let me explain," he recalled. "He told me to go with the bailiff."

Judge Susan Brown said, "I can tell you that it has been topic of conversation for a while."

Judge Brown told us judges are well aware of the backup downstairs, but we asked her if revoking defendants' bonds is reasonable if someone is four or five minutes late.

"We have nothing in writing. We have no standard policy," Judge Brown said. "That would be in the judge's discretion based on all the facts they know."

She did tell us about a new pilot program starting on September 1 for seven courts. Their dockets will be essentially staggered, by time and day. Meaning Haris and others in line wouldn't have to come to court at the same time, or as often.

"That's a hassle to have to come back all the way again next month," Haris said. "It depends on where you're coming from."

The overcrowding also poses a safety and security concerns.

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