Felony bond debate factored in defeat of incumbent Harris County judges: 'We're sick of it'

Jessica Willey Image
Thursday, March 3, 2022
Some Democratic judges lose primaries amid batle over bond reform
Some Harris County judges are feeling the wrath of voters, concerned about what we've been calling the broken felony bond system. But will it be enough to change our justice system?

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- When Paul Castro went to vote during the 2022 primary, he was more educated than before when it came to Harris County criminal court judges.

"I'm an activist who didn't want to be an activist," Castro said.

Paul's 17-year-old son, David, was murdered in the summer of 2021. David was shot to death in a road rage incident following an Astros game and Paul was reluctantly sucked into the world of the Harris County Criminal Justice system and the ongoing felony bond debate. He believes Gerald Williams, a violent felon and the man accused of killing his son, should not have been released on bond.

"In a situation like that, there is discretion," Castro said.

SEE ALSO: Father of 17-year-old slain in road rage shooting after Astros game demands policy change on bonds

The controversy surrounding bonds for defendants accused of violent felonies has taken center stage for at least two years. Victims' families have staged protests and rallies. One was held even on Election Day in front of the criminal courthouse.

Paul thinks voters remember those images and the heartbroken victims at the polls.

"I think people said, 'We're sick of it and we're going to hold people accountable at the ballot box,'" he said.

Four Democratic incumbent district court judges were voted out. Among those voted out was Greg Glass, who didn't hold one trial for a year and a half, and who lowered bond for the man who would shoot and kill Houston Police Officer Bill Jeffrey in September 2021, despite a prosecutor's request to deny it.

SEE ALSO: 10 Democratic judges lost primary election; 1 heads to runoff

Judge Jason Luong will be in a runoff. Eight other district court judges won their races but five ran unopposed. Rice political science professor Mark Jones says there are a few factors at play, including the bond issue.

"The incumbents were hurt, I think, in many ways, by guilt-by-association in the sense that they, for rather right or wrong, are associated with a trend in Harris County where people believe lower bonds and allowing violent people back on the streets has had an adverse impact on public safety and so you saw some backlash at the polls," Jones said.

Jones does not think it will be enough to flip the seats in November but Paul Castro believes a message has been sent.

"I think everyone needs to be paying attention to this and understanding that, as elected officials, they're responsible to us, the community, the voters, and if they don't do what we're asking them to do, then we'll find someone who does."

The judge who will hear the case against Williams is not up for reelection this year.

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