District Attorney Kim Ogg on Friday filed a brief supporting bail reform in the lawsuit brought against Harris County’s misdemeanor judges to change the bail system.
The civil rights lawsuit, filed in federal court, is expected to begin a three-day hearing on Monday about whether the judge should issue an injunction.
Ogg, whose office is not a party to the litigation, filed a four-page amicus brief saying bail reform is necessary and long overdue.
“It makes no sense to spend public funds to house misdemeanor offenders in a high-security penal facility when the crimes themselves may not merit jail time,” she wrote in the brief. “These secure beds and expensive resources should be prioritized for the truly dangerous offenders and ‘flight risks’ who need to be separated from the community.”
Ogg said the issue is whether defendants charged with minor offenses are being held in the Harris County jail solely because of their inability to pay bondsmen’s fees, not because of legitimate concerns about their willingness to appear in court.
“Our primary concern is public safety. We do that by being smart on crime,” Ogg said. “When people are charged with minor offenses and do not present significant risks of flight or danger to the community, releasing them on their own recognizance – or with minimal restrictions – is called for by both the Texas and U.S. constitutions.”
Tom Berg, Ogg’s First Assistant, said the office is not “taking sides” but just explaining that they want to see change.
“These are major changes that we believe are long overdue,” he said. Berg noted that the office is also supporting county-funded defense attorneys at magistrate courts that run 24 hours a day with a prosecutor and a judge but no lawyer at that initial appearance. That issue has run into hurdles because of several issues but mostly because of the cost of staffing the initiative.
Ogg joins Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, whose office is party to the lawsuit, in siding with the reformers. I presume an amicus brief coming from the District Attorney in this matter would carry some weight. The next round of hearings begins today, so we should know soon enough what the effect of Ogg’s intervention will be.