March 5, 2018 Updated: March 5, 2018 4:27pm
Groups say Harris County judge can’t be impartial, must resign – Houston Chronicle
Greater Houston Coalition for Justice chair Johnny Mata speaks to media about the civil rights group joining the efforts to remove of State District Judge Michael McSpadden during a press conference across the … more
Photo: Godofredo A. Vasquez / Godofredo A. Vasquez / Houston Chronicle
Civil rights activists and politicians Monday gathered outside the Harris County criminal courthouse and demanded resignation of a veteran district judge over controversial published remarks he made about African American defendants and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Several speakers invited by the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice called on voters to replace State District Judge Michael McSpadden, who is up for re-election, and other jurists who have a pattern of denying personal bonds to poor defendants. Among the groups and elected officials decrying McSpadden’s conduct were the Houston branch of the NAACP, CAIR of Houston, LULAC and the GI Forum. Democratic elected officials and candidates in attendance included state representatives Armando Walle and Ana Hernandez, a well as Lina Hidalgo, the Democratic challenger for County Judge Ed Emmett’s job, all of whom urged the county to settle a costly lawsuit over bail practices an appeals court ruled were unconstitutional.
The demonstration comes days after many of the groups filed a complaint with the state’s watchdog commission in Austin seeking sanctions against McSpadden – who has served on the court for 36 years – whom they claim demonstrated through his comments that he has pre-judged defendants before they arrive in his court.
McSpadden went on to say, “The young black men – and it’s primarily young black men rather than young black women – charged with felony offenses, they’re not getting good advice from their parents,” he said. “Who do they get advice from? Rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter, which tell you, ‘Resist police,’ which is the worst thing in the world you could tell a young black man … They teach contempt for the police, for the whole justice system.”
McSpadden has declined subsequent requests for comment, but submitted a letter to the editor outlining his thoughts in greater detail.
At the press conference, Johnny N. Mata, director of the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice said was “appalled” by McSpadden’s statement, which he said indicated the judge’s mind was made up before he heard cases involving black defendants. He and other community leaders drew a link between McSpadden and other judges who systematically denying cash-free bond to poor defendants, and the county’s protracted defense in the civil rights lawsuit over local bail practices that a federal appeals court last month affirmed were discriminatory against indigent defendants.
“We’re not here to coddle criminals, we’re here to defend justice, especially in the way that the scales of justice weigh down more on the poor,” Mata said.
James Douglas, president of the Houston branch of the NAACP said he believed McSpadden was not alone in this thinking, but he should be removed from trying cases because he cannot be fair.
“He has indicated he has preconceived ideas about potential individuals that might come before him in a criminal trial,” said Douglas, a law professor at Texas Southern University. “To make a statement that certain segments of the population have criminal intent and not deal with people on an individual basis is not the kind of criteria we want to see in the people who serve on the bench.”
“Not only is he racist, he’s not very smart,” he said.
Gabrielle Banks covers federal court for the Houston Chronicle. Follow her on Twitter and send her tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.