Bond battle in Galveston County leaves magistrate judge 'stunned' as police union looks for changes

Nick Natario Image
Tuesday, April 23, 2024
Bond battle in Galveston County leaves magistrate judge 'stunned'
Police union calls out Magistrate Judge John Melcher on social media for the number of people getting out of the Galveston County Jail on low bonds.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A Galveston County magistrate judge was left stunned after he was called out on social media by a police union that's upset with the amount of defendants allowed out of jail.

The fight is between a local police union and Magistrate Judge John Melcher, whom Galveston Municipal Police Association president Anthony Rogers said "has literally the same criminal legal law background experience as my dog does."

"When his dog is able to take the hundred and hundreds of hours of training that I've been through and pass all of those tests and meet all of the qualifications that have been set forth by the state, then I guess the commissioners' court could consider that if they chose to do so," Melcher responded.

Over the weekend, the Galveston Municipal Police Association shared a statement and images of Melcher on its social media, blaming him for allowing too many defendants to get out of jail without paying a penny.

"The fact that they go to jail, and they're right back on the streets," Rogers explained. "That's a danger to our community. It makes it dangerous for our officers."

Numbers from the Texas Judicial Branch show this year, statewide, 12% of cases result in defendants not having to pay anything to be released from jail.

In Fort Bend County, it's 11%. In Montgomery County, it's 14%. In Galveston County, it's 34%.

It's not just no bond, but a low bond.

Rogers said the district attorney and sheriff's office requested a $550,000 bond from a drug bust last month on Avenue O. The judge set it to less than $100,000.

"It is hurting our community," Rogers said. "It's putting our children in danger. It's putting our community in danger and making our officers work twice as hard."

Melcher said the district attorney's office or sheriff can recommend a high bond, but sometimes it doesn't fit. "We take into account all kinds of consideration," Melcher explained.

Eight years ago, the county changed its bond program after it was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union. It created a supervised release program.

Melcher said not only has it shown non-violent offenders don't recommit, nearly all check-in. County data shows over the last year, about 97% of the defendants released in the personal bond program comply with the supervision.

"If you think the defendant is better supervised for the safety of the public by the personal bond office than they are by the bail bondsman, then that factors into your decision," Melcher said.

Melcher said he agreed to meet with the union. The union backed out.

Leaders wanted to meet with County Judge Mark Henry. Henry didn't appoint Melcher; the county commissioners' court did.

"If you want change, you have to start at the top," Rogers said. "I don't want to meet with somebody who cannot make a change in this instance."

"Drop a dime on me," Melcher said. "I'm not that hard to find, but don't drop a snipe on me on Facebook. Tell me what you want to talk about."

The judge would rather have a war of words in person to address concerns than see his images on social media.

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