We don’t really need more prosecutors on the bench


Kim Ogg

On a winter afternoon nine months into the pandemic, Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg held a Zoom meeting with felony judges and prosecutors to discuss the backlog of cases caused by COVID-19 shutdowns at the downtown Houston courthouse. But the backlog wasn’t the only issue to come up that day. For years, the Democratic DA had been publicly criticizing local judges who set what she deemed insufficiently high bonds for defendants accused of violent crimes. Now her office would deliver a direct warning. First assistant district attorney David Mitcham, Ogg’s top lieutenant, informed the judges that there would be a “reckoning” if they didn’t start setting higher bonds.

“My reaction was like, ‘Wow, that was bold,’ ” said Joe Vinas, the president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, who was on the call representing the criminal defense bar. “One of the judges asked if Mitcham was threatening him.”

Many in Houston’s legal community have thought back to that moment, now that fourteen Harris County prosecutors and one DA investigator have filed to run for criminal court judgeships this year—eight in Democratic primaries, seven in Republican primaries. It’s not unusual for prosecutors to run for judgeships, but the high number in this election cycle has raised eyebrows. In 2020 not a single Harris County prosecutor ran in any of the nine local criminal court races; in 2018, which featured 31 races, just one prosecutor ran. But with Ogg linking a sharp rise in homicides to the bail practices of reform-minded judges elected in recent years, perhaps it’s no surprise that so many of her prosecutors are challenging the 29 Democratic incumbents up for reelection this year.


In 2019 Harris County agreed to a sweeping set of reforms, including the elimination of cash bail for the vast majority of misdemeanor defendants. Instead, defendants would be released before trial on so-called “personal bonds,” which require no up-front payment. The landmark settlement, the first of its kind in the U.S., was endorsed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and every other major county-wide Democratic officeholder—with the exception of Ogg, who warned that letting defendants out on personal bonds would threaten the public by giving judges “unfettered and unreviewable discretion” to delay trials or excuse defendants from ever appearing in court.

In the wake of Harris County’s settlement, Travis County also eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor offenses. Two recent academic studies have found that this reform has been effective. Fewer defendants are now incarcerated before trial and those released on personal bonds have proven unlikely to be rearrested. But that hasn’t stopped some politicians from arguing that more lenient bail policies are endangering public safety. And Republicans, who have not won a county-wide race in Harris County since 2014, hope to capitalize on the issue to regain some judgeships and other offices in 2022.

The concerns about bail reform have been exacerbated by local and national spikes in violent crime over the past two years. Between 2019 and 2020, murders jumped by nearly 30 percent across the country—the largest year-over-year increase in at least six decades—and homicides rose again in 2021 (although the FBI hasn’t released its final data). That trend has held true for Houston: there were an estimated 469 homicides in the city last year, an increase of 71 percent from 2019. That’s still well below the 701 killings in 1981, the city’s deadliest year, when the population was nearly one million less.

Violent crimes such as assault have also increased since 2019, both nationally and in Harris County, although nonviolent crime is down. While the national homicide rate remains below its historic peak in the early nineties, the rapid increase has received intense attention in local media, with crime stories frequently leading television news. Houston’s Fox 26 features a recurring segment called “Breaking Bond”—created in collaboration with nonprofit group Crime Stoppers of Houston—about felony defendants who are rearrested while out on bail. The series regularly features prominent local Republicans blasting Democratic judges for their bail practices.

Criminologists disagree on the reason for the rising crime, but most agree that pandemic-induced frustrations, the surge in gun sales during the coronavirus outbreak, and a general police pullback in reaction to protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd have something to do with it. There’s little evidence to connect bail reform with the surge in homicides, but one notorious case last September added fuel to the argument. After judge Greg Glass set bonds of $10,000 and $20,000 for two drug charges against thirty-year-old Deon Ledet, the Harris County man went free and allegedly killed one police officer and injured another. Prosecutors had asked Glass to hold Ledet without bond because he had twice been convicted of a felony. In March, Glass (who did not respond to an interview request) faces two primary challengers, one of them a Polk County assistant district attorney; if he prevails, he’ll face one of Ogg’s Republican prosecutors in the fall general election.

There’s a lot in here to annoy me, starting with the conflation of the reforms to misdemeanor bail reform and complaints about the amounts of bail being set by felony court judges. The simple fact of the matter is that if your system allows for any possibility of bail, sooner or later someone, whether out on ten dollars bail or ten million dollars bail, is going to commit a crime. You could have a system that’s right 99.9% of the time, but given the thousands of people that go through the courts each year, that means multiple times each year when that happens. Unless your solution is to lock everyone up from the time they’re arrested until the time their case is completed in whatever fashion, no matter what the charge or their circumstances or anything else, then you need to accept this basic fact of life.

(Such a solution would be blatantly unconstitutional, of course. So is simply charging everyone more for bail, since that makes bail only accessible to the wealthy, and punishes others for being poor. Which is what the misdemeanor bail lawsuit was all about. That does introduce some risk as noted, but we’re trying to balance it against the enormous wrong of locking up people who have not been convicted of any crime. Sometimes these things don’t have simple answers.)

Look, you can read the various judicial Q&A responses I’ve published from incumbents and candidates. I’ll have run over 40 of them by the time all is said and done. I’ve no doubt some of these assistant DAs would be fine judges. But this isn’t a good look, and I’m not at all inclined to view their time in that office as a positive because of it. And speaking as someone who has voted for Kim Ogg in each of the past two primaries, I’ll be looking very carefully at my other options in 2024.

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22 Responses to We don’t really need more prosecutors on the bench

  1. Michelle says:

    According to a federal study, in Harris County the recidivism rate is no higher for those on PR bonds than those on cash bail. The bail bondsmen who are now only requiring 1-2% to pay your bail are a bigger problem than the judges setting bail.

  2. J. A. Moffitt says:

    Which candidates running now are from the current DA’s office?

  3. Paul Kubosh says:

    I told ya’ll from the beginning that this nonsense would get people killed. You have what you asked for and you now have dead people. Most of these dead people are poor minorities. Where is the outrage? No one cares about the poor. Some people do not belong in society. Some people deserve to be locked up and never let lose. The victims of your progressive anarchy criminal justice system agree with me. I promise you they do.

  4. Frederick says:

    Paul is right!

    We need to elect more conservative Republicans into office, because if there is any type of candidate that cares about the poor its going to be conservative Republicans.

    Let’s eradicate these unconnected people from society. Maybe we can set up a camp and concentrate them there until a sort of judicial process can take place.

  5. Ross says:

    Paul, maybe you and your bail bond brothers need to quit giving 1% bonds. Maybe the DA needs to ask for higher felony bonds. Every felony case I’ve looked at, the judge set the bail at the amount requested by the DA. There is not a single answer here.

  6. I strongly disagree.

    After years of catering to criminal defendants and basically ignoring crime victims and public safety, our liberal, progressive Criminal District Court judges must now ask us for our vote. To get re-elected, they blame the on-going violent crime wave on the bail bond industry, the COVID pandemic, Hurricane Harvey, the District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement agencies, the mental health crisis, etc. In short, they blame everyone but themselves. The reality is, in the name of criminal justice “reform”, our incumbent judges have spent the last several years granting repeat felony offenders PR bail bonds, relatively low bonds, multiple bonds, and have made it much more difficult to revoke these bail bonds. As a result, are we really surprised that criminals have thrived in this environment of scant consequences and almost no accountability?

    Over the past year, Mayor Turner, Sheriff Gonzalez, D.A. Ogg, Crime Stoppers, our elected Constables, police organizations, crime victims, and many others have spoken out publicly against these radical judges and their reckless bail bond decisions. From this list, you can tell the criticism of these judges has been bipartisan. The local media, including Click2Houston, Fox26, Abc13, etc. have all run numerous stories on these judges, with the “Breaking Bond” investigative series being the most extensive. Before voting, I encourage everyone to view that series and decide for yourself if these incumbent judges deserve re-election.

    In my opinion, this upcoming Democratic primary gives us an opportunity to self-correct and nominate some new, moderate, “tough on crime” Democratic candidates. While crime victims live in every neighborhood, residents in our historically under-served communities have suffered the most during this on-going violent crime wave and they desperately want (and deserve) change. To that end, I encourage readers to review and consider my Democratic candidate endorsements posted on the HarrisCountyDemocrats.com website blog. Let’s elect some candidates who are committed to public safety ALL the time, not just when running for re-election.

  7. Paul Kubosh says:

    Fredrick and Ross,

    Evil exists. Like it or not there is evil. Keep letting these people out and eventually this evil will touch you also. These people are easy to identify. Where is the outrage? It doesn’t exist because the evil hasn’t reached Memorial, River Oaks, Heights area. When it does then you will also be convert.

  8. Paul Kubosh says:

    Well said Greg Sumerlin.

  9. Jonathan Freeman says:

    Mayor Turner, Sheriff Gonzalez, D.A. Ogg were three of the biggest names favoring bail reform until recently, the sheriff telling all who would listen that he didn’t have enough capacity to hold everyone charged with a crime before trial. Violent crime is up all across the country too, not just in locations under a bail reform agreement, so I’m skeptical that anyone will be able to prove it is the cause of our recent troubles.

    I have to wonder about those bashing the bail industry though. If a bonding company believes the risk one of their clients has of not showing up is worth accepting 1 or 2% to free the client, aren’t they agreeing that most people do not commit crimes while on bail, no matter how low? If that private industry is making poor judgement calls to let out the truly dangerous types, maybe the legislature should pass a reform that ties the bond to not only showing up to court but that the person commits no serious crimes or the money be revoked.

    I agree with Paul that there are some very dangerous people out there that should not be given bond if they are proven an immediate danger to the public. How predictable is it that a given individual is determined to be such a risk without making a kneejerk response to lock everyone away based on the small number of truly dangerous criminals there are, right?

  10. Paul Kubosh says:

    They evaluate every Defendant one at a time. We are not talking about first time offenders here. We are talking about Habitual offenders. This is not rocket science. It is obvious. The Republican Judges “McSpadden and his like” got us into this and the last thing I want to do is get more people like him back on the bench.

  11. C.L. says:

    Paul, considering the amount of outrage you’ve spoken here about the process, I’m expecting you and your family to immediately get out of the bail bond business….you know, to rid yourself of this stench.

  12. Paul Kubosh says:

    C.L. you are just like everyone else speaking without any consideration of the truth of your words. I am not in the Bail Bond Business. I never have been. I am not my brother. I cannot control my brothers. They do whatever they want to do. However, I was right about this and you know it.

  13. Ross says:

    Paul, are you talking about felony bail or misdemeanor? I said earlier that every felony case I’ve looked up, the judge set bail at the amount requested by the DA. If the DA asks for $100,000 should the judge set it higher? Judges do not operate in a vacuum.

  14. Paul Kubosh says:

    Ross, you are wrong! Plain and simple.

  15. Manny says:

    Paul, why not prove Ross wrong rather than continue to spin stories like most Republicans tend to do.

    By the way, Paul, where are you registered to vote? Is that your house or a place of business?

  16. Tom Berg says:

    Maybe all those candidates from the DA Office just want to get out of there without losing their county time toward retirement. I screened many of them while they were seeking endorsements and many lacked trial experience. None seemed happy where they were. And few had the chops to be effective defense lawyers. It’s complicated.

  17. Paul Kubosh says:

    Manny go to Mike Kubosh’s Facebook page. You will see them there. I have nothing to do with the Judicial Complaints and do not think that is the route to get change. They are there for you to read. You know it’s the truth and you know I was right. No outrage for the victims who are mostly minorities.

  18. Manny says:

    Bypassed the second question, Paul.

    Believe me or go do the research where I tell you to go, my brother’s Facebook page.

    Paul, since I used to talk to many people it was surprising what some people would tell me. It was not unusual for bonding companies and lawyers to work hand in hand.

    People have been committing crimes after they are released on bail even when all the judges were Republicans and the Commissioner’s Court was run by the Republicans.

    It is politics Paul, politics, some truth, and a lot of bs.

  19. Paul Kubosh says:

    Then why are you commenting. Just let it be

  20. Jerry W says:

    I suspect the “truth” lies somewhere between Paul K and those who counter his positions. Here’s my suggestion: let everyone who thinks they have the answer spend a week in the county jails as an observer, listening to those incarcerated there and their attorneys, bonds providers, jailers, Judges, prosecutors, court staff, and the families of those incarcerated, and see if the positions/solutions being proposed by either side still hold water.
    And if not, what changes can the opposing sides agree on that will survive judicial and legislative review that will be surely try to keep the current system in place?

  21. Just FYI – an incumbent Criminal Court District judge has also sounded the alarm about some of the reckless bail bond decisions of her fellow judges. In her Houston Chronicle interview, she said, “… Martin also has sounded warnings that the “spirit of bail reform” that was behind mostly ending cash bail for misdemeanors has bled over into the way felony judges approach bail.” PR bonds, low bonds, etc. make sense for non-violent misdemeanor defendants. They do NOT make sense for violent, repeat, felony defendants. Judge Martin has generally been very balanced and prudent with her bail bond decisions.

  22. Anyway, Judge Martin was one of the few incumbent judges endorsed for re-election at HarrisCountyDemocrats.com. We spent a lot of time researching the candidates.

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