Governor eliminates jail time for violating COVID-19 orders after Dallas salon owner's sentence

Thursday, May 7, 2020
No jail time for violating COVID-19 orders, governor says
"Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen," the governor said.

AUSTIN, Texas -- After a Texas hair salon owner was sentenced to jail for defying a closure order, Gov. Greg Abbott said the punishment is no longer on the table.

In a tweet Thursday morning, the governor said he is "eliminating jail for violating an order, retroactive to April 2, superseding local orders. Criminals shouldn't be released to prevent COVID-19 just to put business owners in their place."

Abbott also said throwing Texans in jail whose businesses shut down "through no fault of their own is wrong."

The decision comes after Dallas hair salon owner Shelley Luther refused to close her business. She was booked in the Dallas County jail on Tuesday afternoon following a video hearing, during which she was found in contempt of court. The hearing occurred as Gov. Greg Abbott relaxed more restrictions statewide, allowing barbershops and hair salons to reopen Friday.

The Texas Supreme Court ordered Luther's release from jail Thursday morning.

RELATED: Dallas salon owner who refused to close business jailed for defying order

In a letter to state District Judge Eric Moyé, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called her sentencing outrageous.

"The trial judge did not need to lock up Shelley Luther," Paxton wrote. "His order is a shameful abuse of judicial discretion, which seems like another political stunt in Dallas. He should release Ms. Luther immediately."

You can read Paxton's letter here.

Abbott also weighed in, calling Judge Moyé's sentencing excessive.

"As I have made clear through prior pronouncements, jailing Texans for non-compliance with executive orders should always be the last available option," Abbott said in a statement before Thursday's update.

Last month, Luther was issued a citation for keeping open her Dallas salon despite state and local directives that kept nonessential businesses closed.

ORIGINAL STORY: Dallas salon owner risks business license in reopening during stay-home order

In Tuesday's hearing, Luther said she kept the salon open because she needed the money.

"I couldn't feed my family, and my stylists couldn't feed their families," Luther testified, saying she had applied for a federal loan but didn't receive it until Sunday.

Moyé said during Tuesday's hearing that he would consider levying a fine instead of jail time if Luther would apologize and not reopen until she was allowed to do so. Luther refused.

"Feeding my kids is not selfish," she told Moyé. "If you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon."

Moyé wrote in his judgment of contempt: "The defiance of the court's order was open, flagrant and intentional." He noted that, despite being given the opportunity to apologize, Luther has "expressed no contrition, remorse or regret" for her actions.