Houston judge under fire for treatment of pre-trial suspects

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Houston City Councilman Michael Kubosh – in his role as a bail bondsman – on Thursday accused a felony court judge of judicial oppression and demanded that he recuse himself in a criminal case.

The issue, Kubosh said, is that state District Judge Micheal McSpadden is refusing to appoint lawyers to indigent defendants who are free on bail.

Court records show that McSpadden requires defendants free on bail to hire a lawyer and if they do not, they are ordered to come to court on a daily basis until they do, despite protestations of indigence.

“The court should appoint a lawyer or give him a public defender,” Kubosh said. “This shouldn’t be this hard. They do this to oppress the person to take a plea or give up and just make a deal. This is all about judicial oppression.”

Kubosh has underwritten an $80,000 bond for 22-year-old Antwain Townes, a suspect in a robbery.

Kubosh said he did it as a favor to Townes’ pastor for a fee of just 1 percent instead of the customary 10 percent.

The ability to make bail is generally seen by many of Harris County’s 22 felony court judges as proof of ability to hire a lawyer. They are generally loathe to appoint an attorney to someone free on bail.

For McSpadden, Houston’s longest serving felony court judge, the math is simple: Defendants who make bail can get a job and hire an attorney.

He said he makes exceptions in compelling cases.

“If they say they are disabled or have mental problems or whatever,” McSpadden said, “and it sounds like a viable reason for not being able to get a job and hire their own attorney, I’ll appoint one in a second.”

McSpadden painted a picture of defendants “playing the system” by slowing the docket, keeping their own cases from moving forward, by not hiring a lawyer or even asking that one be appointed.

“They just screw you by not doing anything to hire an attorney or ask for a court-appointed attorney,” he said. “You can’t let these cases go on forever.”

The judge confirmed that after the fourth court appearance without a lawyer, he requires most defendants to come to court every day until they do.

“After the fourth time,” McSpadden said, “if they haven’t hired an attorney at that time, I tell them they need to come back to court every day until they hire an attorney. It works with most.”

That presumption apparently led the judge to reset Townes, and others, to appear in court on a daily basis until they hire a lawyer. Townes appeared 10 days in a row until he appeared on a news report earlier this month.

At least two other suspects have told the Chronicle they have been rescheduled daily in McSpadden’s court because they do not have lawyers.

Because of Townes’ experience in front of McSpadden, and other suspects coming forward, activists and critics amassed in front of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center Thursday to protest the judge’s handling of the cases.

After the protest, Kubosh said the judge told Townes that he saw that news report, and would not hold it against him. That, Kubosh said, was code for holding a serious grudge.

“I want him to recuse himself,” Kubosh said. “Now that’s he addressed this young man’s First Amendment rights, I think he needs to recuse himself. I don’t think he could possibly be fair.”

brian.rogers@chron.com
twitter.com/brianjrogers


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