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Houston city councilman to file grievances against judges over bond issue

City Council Member Michael Kubosh said he wants sanctions against Harris County district and criminal judges who let violent repeat offenders out on bond.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — A Houston city council member and several pastors are joining together in hopes of pressuring local judges to order stricter bonds on repeat offenders.

At-Large Position 3 Councilman Michael Kubosh said Friday that he plans to file grievances against all Harris County criminal and district judges.

He said his motivation rests with the ongoing issue of violent suspects who are easily bonding out and killing again.

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During Friday's announcement, pastors spent time reading the names of victims murdered at the hands of someone out on bond from a previous crime.

The group also prayed for the families and loved ones of the lives lost.

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According to Kubosh, statistics compiled by Crime Stoppers showed 156 murder victims from 2018 to 2021 were killed by suspects out on bond for other crimes.

Kubosh said he not only wants grievances filed asking judges for tougher bond restrictions, but he wants sanctions for judges who disregard a suspect's criminal history.

"We are sending a message to those judges," Kubosh said. "Hey, stop what you're doing. Pay attention. These victims have been murdered, and these defendants were in your courts. Stop it, because we are tired of the pain."

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Kubosh was asked about his role in defendants bonding out as a former bail bondsman himself, but he did not respond to the question at Friday's announcement.

But bond amounts don't fall solely on a judge’s shoulders. 

“Absolutely not. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions," KHOU 11 Legal Expert Carmen Roe said.

“Something else to keep in mind, not just the presumption of innocence but that under our Texas Constitution, there’s a presumption in favor of bail," added Roe, who is a part of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

Under Texas law, only a few exceptions allow a judge to hold someone in county jail with no bond. Roe gave the examples of a person charged with capital murder, or a a person charged with the commission of a felony while out on felony bond.

Roe reminds Texans, the actual court proceedings matter. Did prosecutors present a strong enough case for a higher bond? What is the defendant’s criminal history? Did a judge require conditions when setting bond, like requiring the defendant to wear an ankle monitor?

“They’re enforcing the laws to the best of their abilities. But they don’t have crystal balls,” said Sandra Guerra Thompson a Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Houston School of Law. Thompson was also tasked by a federal judge to monitor Harris County misdemeanor bail reform for the next 5 years.

“I think we need to step back and look at what’s happening nationally,” said Thompson. “And we’re in the middle of a national crime spike.” 

That crime wave is moving across Texas at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is significantly delaying court proceedings. 

Thompson pointed out that some Texas state lawmakers have tried, in the past, to give judges more power to hold people.

“We’ve gotten nowhere with those efforts.” 

To date, the state legislature cannot agree on statewide bail reform.

Thompson also noted the multi-billion dollar business of bail bonds. 

“The bail bond industry is very, very powerful. They have one of the strongest lobbies in Austin,” the law professor said. “That’s why we see laws that tend to favor the business.”

During Kubosh’s press conference, Mario Garza, president of the Harris County Bail Bondsman Association, spoke about bail bond businesses. 

In Texas, like most other states, defendants have to post only 10% of the total bond. For example, a suspect with a $50,000 bond would only need to post $5,000.

“I’ve gone through the back channels and I’ve talked to bonding companies. You know what they’re doing? They’re charging 5% down and then they’re doing a payment plan for the rest.”

Garza also said some Harris County bond companies will take as little as 3% down, no matter the bond amount, to get a defendant out of county jail. 

KHOU has not confirmed if any murder suspects have been let out on bonds lower than the standard 10%.

Of the 80 bonding companies, five to six businesses “are doing things that we need to address as an industry. I will say that," Garza said.

So, what can we do as a community to affect changes to how district judges assign bond? 

“We’ve never been more involved with or aware of what’s going on down at the courthouse, which is a good thing,” said Roe. “I think we need to reconsider a lot of the basic ways that this whole system operates,” said Thompson.

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