Harris County Texas: Where the Innocent Must Plead Guilty to Regain Their Liberty

Friends,

 This letter will be delivered to the 15 Harris County Criminal Court Judges tomorrow.

Robb

ROBERT J. FICKMAN
LAWYER

440 Louisiana, Suite 800
Houston, Texas 77002

(713) 655-7400
Fax (713) 224-6008

November 26, 2013

Judge Paula Goodhart
Judge William Harmon
Judge Natalie Fleming
Judge  John Clinton
Judge  Margaret Stewart
Judge Larry Standley
Judge  Pam Derbyshire
Judge  Jay Karahan
Judge Analia Wilkerson
Judge Sherman  Ross
Judge Diane Bull
Judge Robin Brown
Judge Don Smyth
Judge Michael Fields
Judge Jean Spradling Hughes

Harris County Criminal Court Judges
1201 Franklin
Houston, Texas  77002

Dear Judges,

I hope that you are all well. Happy Thanksgiving to each of you, your families and your very able staffs.

As I am sure you are aware I have been an outspoken critic of the criminal justice system for a number of years. I have practiced criminal law in state and federal court now for 30 years.  During this time I have represented many indigent defendants, particularly in Federal Court. In Federal Court, I served as the first Panel Attorney Representative for the Southern District of Texas. Panel Attorneys are those lawyers in private practice that are deemed qualified to accept Federal appointments.   I was appointed by the late Honorable Norman Black, to represent the panel lawyers from our District. I also served as the Fifth Circuit’s Panel Representative to Defender Services in Washington DC.  Most recently, I served on the Honorable Kenneth Hoyt’s Panel selection committee. I served for a number of years with a handful of good lawyers, assisting Judge Hoyt in re-vamping the system for selecting Panel attorneys. I believe the aforementioned   demonstrate a genuine and long-standing interest on my part in improving indigent representation.

I would not trade our system for any other system in the world. As many of you may recall, it was my idea to display the Constitution in our courthouse, the Jury Assembly Room, the Civil Court and the Juvenile Justice Center. It was also my idea for the Defense Bar to annually read the Declaration of Independence in front of the Court.  As American lawyers, we all took the same oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the State of Texas. I am sure we all take our Oath seriously.  I think as an American Lawyer, I am duty bound to speak out when I see flaws in our criminal justice system. I think we all have a duty to speak out and act whenever the system has evolved in such a way as to contravene the spirit or words of the Constitution. This is the reason, for the first time in thirty years I have addressed this letter to all of you. I believe part of our current system is an affront to our Constitution. I am petitioning you, in my individual capacity, to change that part of the system which offends our Constitution.

In my 30 years as a criminal defense lawyer, I have concluded that one of the biggest problems in our system continues to be how we treat the poor.  As you know, they make up a large part of the population of those who are charged with crimes.

For years, I have observed the chain of orange jump suits come into our courts.  I watch people pleading guilty, not long after they have met their appointed counsel. The lawyers who plead multiple clients guilty an hour after they met them, are not truly functioning as defense lawyers. A defense lawyer is duty bound to investigate the law and the facts. Those lawyers who plead multiple clients guilty, not long after meeting said clients, cannot possibly have done an adequate job of investigating the law or the facts. A lawyer who is appointed to represent 6 clients at 9AM, does not have sufficient time to investigate the law and facts for those 6 clients between 9AM and 11AM. Yet we routinely see lawyers who were appointed at 9AM, pleading 6 clients guilty at 11AM.  Doing the math, that affords the lawyer no more than 20minutes tops to work on each client’s case. I suspect if it were our loved one, we would all expect a lawyer to spend more than 20 minutes on our loved one’s case before making even an initial recommendation.

There is no time for these lawyers to interview the client in any meaningful way, interview prospective defense witnesses, investigate potential defenses, investigate the state’s case, or investigate relevant legal issues. That cannot be done in 20 minutes.  I refer to this system as the “Harris County Plea Mill”. I am not picking on Harris County, I am aware similar bad systems exist elsewhere. (Nor am I picking on all lawyers who do court appointed work in the county courts. We have some lawyers who, despite the system, do their very best to provide effective assistance. These lawyers are more the exception than the rule.)

I believe the inherently unfair “Plea Mill” stems largely from the incarceration of the accused. The accused remain in jail because they have not been able to hire a bondsman and because your courts will not give them personal recognizance bonds. Logic dictates that people prefer liberty over incarceration.

All things being equal, if an accused can hire a bondsman to get out of jail, the accused will do so.  Likewise, if an accused cannot hire a bondsman, but they are afforded an opportunity for release on a personal recognizance bond, they will take the opportunity.  However, the opportunity to be released on a personal recognizance bond is almost non-existent in our County Criminal Courts; therein lies the root of the problem.

As things stand the accused in Harris County generally only have one way  to secure their release before court. That entails hiring a bondsman. This suits the bondsmen just fine, as they have a bit of a monopoly on the ability to secure the accused person’s liberty prior to court.  Bondsmen do not work for free, nor should they. They make lots of money based on their established monopoly.

Those who are too poor to hire a bondsman, having been denied an opportunity for a personal recognizance bond, sit in jail and await their first court appearance. They are brought to jail and placed in a holding tank.

There they sit, with little or no control over their fate.

After a short time the appointed counsel comes back to visit them. As stated the norm entails fairly quick visits between the accused and their newly  appointed lawyer. The accused are presented a “Hobson’s Choice” by their appointed counsel.   We all know the drill.  The accused is told if they plead guilty they will get out of jail sooner; if they plead not guilty they will get out of jail later.

People don’t like to be in jail. Poor people who are trying to support a family and cannot afford to lose their job, cannot afford the luxury of staying in jail to fight to prove their innocence.  No.  People who are poor, who live hand to mouth, will plead guilty to get out of jail sooner.  We have no way of knowing if they are in fact guilty. Except for in rare cases, there has been no real defense investigation.  We are left to wonder, if we care, whether innocent people are in fact pleading guilty to get out of jail.

I do not believe in self- deception or communal self- deception.  It is quite obvious under our system, innocent people are pleading guilty to get out of jail. Our system, is a system that “corners” poor people into pleading guilty to obtain their liberty. I do not believe a system that by design or default coerces men into pleading  guilty  in order to obtain their liberty is a fair system. Quite the contrary, our  system is offensive to  our Constitution. Our perpetuation of  this system daily offends what our Founding Fathers envisioned.  It is an odious system where a free man must plead guilty and accept a criminal label in order to restore his liberty.

This is our long-standing, self-perpetuating abusive system.

I have spoken to many of you one on one about the county court’s systematic denial of personal recognizance bonds to the poor who are charged with non-violent misdemeanors. I will breach no confidences.  I will however, advise you, as a group, that individually a number of you privately agree with me.

I am writing this letter to request that all Fifteen of you address this ongoing serious problem in our system.  Enough is enough!  I am advised that as of now only 7% of those charged with misdemeanors are given PR bonds.  A few years ago that number  was  5-6%.   That is very little progress.  Every day the current system goes on, is another day where  innocent people are  pleading guilty to gain their freedom. We are all responsible for our system. I appeal to you, to work together to change this. Let us  free poor people charged with non-violent misdemeanors on Personal recognizance bonds. Let us do this  to afford their lawyers time to represent them. Let us do this so that innocent men and women are no longer forced to plead guilty to regain their liberty.

I am appealing to you to address the inequities brought about by the continued systematic denial of   personal recognizance bonds  to those accused of non-violent misdemeanors.  Poor Houstonians who are accused of misdemeanor theft, possession of marijuana, trespass, driving while license suspended and other non-violent offenses should  not have to choose  to plead guilty to obtain their liberty.

As long as this system remains in place, we are all accountable for the damage done. I need not tell you, what a conviction for misdemeanor theft does to a person’s chance to obtain employment and support their family.

On a final note, to demonstrate the sincerity of my request, I have begun a short fast. The fast is simply my way of protesting our denial of PR bonds to the poor. The fast is my attempt to get your attention.  I hope during this Holiday Season, during this time of Thanks, as we gather with our families we consider those less fortunate than ourselves. In the spirit of the Holidays, I ask the Fifteen of you to immediately change course and begin systematically granting personal recognizance bonds to those charged with non-violent misdemeanor offenses. Our fellow Houstonians, who are presumed innocent under our Constitution, deserve our taking better care of their “God Given Liberty”.

Respectfully

 

Robb Fickman
Lawyer

About Robert Fickman

Robert Fickman is a criminal defense attorney with 33 years experience in defending the citizen accused in both state and federal court. He is a past president of HCCLA and remains active in its mission.

    47 comments on “Harris County Texas: Where the Innocent Must Plead Guilty to Regain Their Liberty

    1. Asif Sayani

      November 27, 2013 at 3:15 am

      Thank you Robb for your voice, your compassion, your empathy, and your action. I am grateful for your cause and appreciate your efforts. May they bear fruit. Peace.

      Reply
    2. Gary Trichter

      November 27, 2013 at 4:14 am

      What an outstanding letter. The Founders are smiling.

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        November 28, 2013 at 2:18 am

        Gary- We could use the Founders now. I dont think Thomas Jefferson or John Adams would care much for the Harris County Plea Mill. Robb

        Reply
    3. Carl Pruett

      November 27, 2013 at 4:54 am

      Well spoken, Robb & I agree with a lot of what you say, but have to say that the judges are not the only problem as the 24 hour dockets on misdemeanors and the commissioners court are to hold some responsibility also. The commissioners put pressure on courts and sherif to alleviate jail crowding. The district clerk puts all prisoners still in jail at midnight on the next days docket enabling judges to do the dirty deeds. All politicos in Harris county contribute their two cents worth. And we need to stop the housing of mentally ill defendants in the jail. The problem is not the greedy bondsmen as I can definitely say that a bondsman prefers to gave clients represented by retained counsel instead of appointed counsel who provide inadequate representation. The problem is also not the appointed attorneys as they are like any other group; dome good apples, some bad & some just rotten to the core. It is the entire framework and the philosophy behind it that is faulty.

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        November 28, 2013 at 2:28 am

        Carl- I agree with most of what you say. However, I am not so naive as to believe the $35million a year Harris County Bail bond Business didnt have a hand in killing PR bonds in Harris County. I will exclude you from this statement: The relationship between the bondsmen who make money off of their monopoly and the judges that provide them that monopoly ought to interest any reporter. As “Deepthroat” said ” Follow the Money”.

        Reply
    4. Lori Elaine Laird

      November 27, 2013 at 4:49 am

      Robb,

      Very well stated. Prior to becoming a criminal defense attorney, I was a police officer, patrol sergeant, hostage negotiator and instructor in the police academy teaching Texas and U.S. Constitutional Law and Police officer professionalism and ethics. Through my life experiences, I have seen the inequities of the system from both sides of the bench. Additionally, having recently (and still embattled) with a corrupt judge (who has made a public confession to having committed official oppression against me and now resigned from office)- I have seen the improper use of judicial power and/or indifference from bullies on the bench.

      I preface my comments by pointing out the obvious- there are excellent police officers who are interested in enforcing the law tempered by a true sense of justice. Additionally, we have some excellent judges on many benches throughout the state. However, on the dark side, there are also police officers who do little to no investigation make arrests on cases without sufficient probable cause–or even with NO probable cause–because they lazy, want to impress their superiors and colleagues or simply because they abuse their discretionary power. Then even if the charge is reviewed by an assistant district attorney working intake– they often accept weak charges forcing a poor or indigent person into the system. The poor are often targeted, whether by design, destiny or simply the fact that they are a bull’s-eye of an easy mark.

      Your points are spot on- the poor will often elect to take a guilty plea in lieu of continued incarceration awaiting trial to prove their innocence. Innocent until proven guilty seems to be a quaint, archaic notion, that seems to carry no real meaning in the system. It has almost become axiomatic–poor equals guilty. This problem is intensified when the poor, perhaps arrested for minor offense, plead guilty to gain their freedom. Then they are again targeted for another offense… and their criminal histories grow and their options for subsequent success in standing for their innocence is decreased. Not only does it limit the ability of the poor to continue employment and to care for their families- continued incarceration for the inability to make bond does indeed make it more difficult for individuals willing to challenge the system to aid in preparing for their defense.

      I will join you in your call to action. Tomorrow night is the first night of Hannukah. After I light the first candle in the hannukkia tomorrow night, I will add my prayers and positive thoughts that we as individuals can help change the system that is flawed and fails to provide equality for the poor. I have sacrificed a great deal personally to see justice for my clients and will continue to fight the good fight. Thank you for your efforts and your willingness to take a public stand.

      Best regards and Happy Holidays.

      Lori Elaine Laird

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        November 28, 2013 at 2:21 am

        I dont think its almost axiomatic. It is axiomatic that in Texas, Poor does equal Guilty. You make good points about the self-perpetuating nature of the system. These judges would deny a poor person a PR for having a prior conviction based on this odious system.

        Reply
        • REvers

          November 28, 2013 at 3:35 am

          It’s not just in Texas. Poor = Guilty just about everywhere.

          Reply
        • Kay McGuire, DVM, MS

          November 19, 2014 at 6:02 pm

          Mr. Frickman, I am not an attorney but I am a medical professional. I currently have an employee that is fighting a misdemeanor marijuana charge in district court 15 for the last year. He is one of those folks charged with a $25,000 bond to hold him in custody. I have now loaned him over $15,000 to not only free himself but also for legal council.
          There is substantial evidence that this individual has been railroaded but the judge will hear none of it. Now there are more court fees for pretrial. I am a voting Republican but cannot understand such treatment. It seems that there is definetely a monetary gain for these courts to have their guilty pleas.

          Reply
          • Robert Fickman

            December 13, 2014 at 11:12 am

            The courts too often do things for reasons that having nothing to do with justice

            Reply
    5. Melissa Botting

      November 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      Thank you.

      Reply
    6. Allen Fickman

      November 27, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      well said. Good luck with the fast and with getting the judges to do the right thing

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        November 28, 2013 at 2:49 am

        Are we related? I have a brother with your name who I stomp every year on Thanksgiving Day in our Family Football Game. “Fickman Two Below” is played in the street until someone needs to go to the hospital. I had proposed a
        “Fickman Two Below” Game between HCCLA and the DAOs. I thought we could shut down Franklin and play in front of the courthouse. Someone else decided to change my proposal to a Softball game. I dont play “Girl Baseball” so I declined. If they aint too scared maybe next year the DAO will take us up on a game of “Fickman Two Below”.

        Reply
    7. Leslie Snipes

      November 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      Thank you for writing this! In addition, the accused are denied adequate phone access to contact those who might be able to help them get released. In a world where we all carry our phone numbers in our portable phones and those we need to contact are not listed in phone directories, they are denied access to their phones to obtain needed telephone numbers; forced to use pay phones that only call collect and at rates that would astound the wealthy. Bonds are often set at extraordinary levels (that often drop by as much as 90% if a bondsman is contracted) to ensure an accused spends at least one night in jail despite having been convicted of nothing. If they are released, they are poured out onto the street during an arbitrary 24 hour period without change for a pay phone (if they can find one) since their cash was confiscated and converted to a check they can’t cash and with a phone that has a dead battery.

      As for the non violent v violent issue, well, let’s remember that those accused of violence are also merely ACCUSED and not yet convicted. Often their bonds are set on levels not supported by the nominal evidence presented. Or have we completely done away with the concept of presumed innocence altogether?

      And who do we count as “poor” these days? I could certainly argue that the legal system has become such an expensive morass that close to 99% of those accused actually constitute those who cannot afford to get justice now when they must pay out of pocket to fend against the unlimited coffers of prosecutors. In some ways, I find this the most offensive portion of all. Even if one can wrangle getting bailed, one still faces a very unfair process where the prosecutors can merely drag it out and on and outspend the defense; forcing even more to plead guilty when perhaps they are innocent. Want to make it fair? How about a budget for each case and each side gets HALF and it all comes out of state coffers so that both sides have to work within budget constraints rather than just the defendants?!

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        November 28, 2013 at 2:22 am

        I am recommending that we start with non-violent misdeamenors because it is the weakest link in the hodge podge of ridiculous arguments advanced in support of this abusive system.

        Reply
    8. Carmen

      November 27, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      Robb,

      This is very well-written and addresses many of the concerns with the Harris County Justice system in misdemeanor courts. I stand behind you. I will think of you and the many indigent defendants who pled guilty to be home with their families or continue sit in jail over this Thanksgiving Holiday.

      Carmen M. Roe
      Attorney at Law
      HCCLA President-Elect

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        November 28, 2013 at 2:42 am

        Carmen- Good point. How sad it is that there in this county innocent people plead guilty just to get out for the Holidays. Shame on Harris County. We have crossed the Rubicon on this Issue. THERE IS NO GOING BACK. If Reason does NOT prevail, there is always the option of an extended field trip to 515 Rusk.

        Reply
    9. Kevin Fine

      November 28, 2013 at 12:28 am

      Brother, excellent letter. It’s extremely well written and very compelling.

      Kevin

      Reply
    10. Sheila Allen

      November 28, 2013 at 10:21 am

      True, compelling and beautifully stated. I give thanks today for the Robert Fickmans in the world, who will speak out for Justice. I was a line Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles, CA for almost ten years – we had a lot more OR releases than I now see in my beloved adopted state (non-violent misd: almost all). My heart and hopes for justice are with you, Mr. Frickman. Thank you for saying what I’ve been silently thinking.

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        December 1, 2013 at 8:09 am

        Thank you for the kind words. We inspire each other. Outside of my family and certain historical figures, my heros are defense lawyers.

        Reply
    11. nancy knox-bierman

      November 30, 2013 at 1:20 am

      well put!!! Thanks for stepping up and saying this!!

      Reply
    12. Alex Bunin

      December 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      I support you Robb. Your cause is honorable.

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        December 5, 2013 at 6:37 am

        Alex- Thank you for adding your voice. It is important that Our judges and legal community know that responsible leaders such as yourself join in this cause for justice.
        Robb

        Reply
    13. Mark W Bennett

      December 1, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      Robb, thank you for your work in calling public attention to this problem. I hope that the following—all of whom are Republicans up for reelection next year—are paying attention and thinking about how they can better do their job of ensuring fair treatment for people charged with crimes:

      Paula Goodhart
      William Harmon
      Natalie Fleming
      John Clinton
      Margaret Stewart
      Larry Standley
      Pam Derbyshire
      Jay Karahan
      Analia Wilkerson
      Sherman Ross
      Diane Bull
      Robin Brown
      Don Smyth
      Michael Fields
      Jean Spradling Hughes

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        December 5, 2013 at 6:30 am

        Mark- I have said it before, political affiliation has no connection to judicial qualifications. I have seen good judges that were Republicans and Democrats. Judges, like people, should be taken one at a time. I dont care what party a judge is in. Party affiliation does not make a great judge.
        Charachter and a willingness to do the right thing make a great judge.

        Our judges tend to rate themselves based on the size of their docket. I tell the judges, When your dead NO ONE will care how small your docket was; they will care only about how you treated people and the quality of justice afforded in your court.

        I do not view this as a political issue. I view it as a human rights issue. Our judges have the ability to fix this long-standing problem. I hope they do. I believe they have let expediency and the Bondsmen dominate their view of their own dockets for far too long.

        Conratulations on your Blog Defending People again winning well-earned national recognition.

        Your friend and inevitable cell mate.
        Robb

        Reply
    14. Vik Vij

      December 1, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      I stand with Robb in support of PR bonds for indigent non-violent misdemeanor citizen accuseds.

      Reply
    15. Bobby Mims

      December 1, 2013 at 6:58 pm

      I call on the Judges of Texas to immediately implement a program granting personal recognizance bonds for indigent citizens accused of non-violent misdemeanors.

      There are many citizens so accused who merely plead guilty to cases in order to obtain freedom. A system of justice based on coercion of defendants is intolerable in a free society. When the constitutional right to bail is denied then injustice is likely. Coerced pleas of defendants seeking freedom disables one who may be innocent and all whose cases should be given a fair hearing. As this system continues more and more citizens become legally damaged with criminal records that hinder their integration into society. A system of “get free for plea” is dishonest and should be eliminated.

      Defense lawyers who accept indigent appointments should become familiar with the State Bar of Texas’ Performance Guidelines for Non-Capital Criminal Representation. These are the minimum standards when representing indigent defendants in court appointed cases.

      I join with the leadership of the Harris County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (“HCCLA”) in calling for a reform of the bail policy on non-violent misdemeanors.

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        December 5, 2013 at 6:43 am

        Bobby Mims speaks in his private capacity as a great Tyler, Criminal
        Defense Lawyer. Bobby is also the President of the 3500 member Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

        Reply
    16. Fred Grissom

      December 1, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      Robb,

      I am still slowly absorbing the lessons from “The Art of Living” by Epictetus, which you graciously gave me last year. Today, I am on the chapter “Mistreatment Comes from False Impressions”. The tragedy now is that the mistreatment comes without the people in the system having to form any impression whatsoever. “Hey, they said they are guilty, not me”. Can that really give the powerful a good nights sleep?

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        December 5, 2013 at 6:51 am

        Fred,
        All parties have a defensible position:
        The Ada can say, ” Hey,I just extended a plea bargain”
        The Defense lawyer can say, ” Hey, I just conveyed the plea bargain” and
        The Judge can say, ” Hey, I just accepted the plea bargain.

        Everybody gets to go home… even the poor defendant,
        who having no real choice,
        had to plead guilty to go home.

        Actual Innocence? … Who knows? Who cares?
        Apparently nobody. As long as the docket and ze trains keep moving,
        who cares…

        Reply
    17. Carol Oeller

      December 3, 2013 at 8:21 am

      Your decision to address the inequities at the pretrial stage of Harris County’s justice system is a laudable goal. Bail practices here have been particularly impervious to reform. As much as I admire and appreciate your effort, though, I don’t believe the sole catalyst for change should be the plight of the poor.

      Undeniably, the inability to secure release pending adjudication is disproportionately experienced by people who are economically disadvantaged. Moreover, minorities are over-represented in this detained population and therefore, suffer more exposure to the negative consequences associated with pretrial detention. But, tailoring remedies to only one segment of the arrestee population will not yield a fairer administration of justice. “Preventing access to release on recognizance for all persons denies them due process and equal protection of the laws” (Alberti v. Sheriff, 406 F. Supp 649, memorandum and opinion dated December 16, 1975).

      Money should not control who gets out of jail. Rather, decisions about release requirements should be based on an assessment of a person’s risk to engage in misconduct if released. Reliance on fixed amounts in a bail schedule that is structured according to offense level and priors preempts the individualized assessments needed to ascertain a person’s risk. This is not a practice unique to Harris County, but it nevertheless contravenes Stack v. Boyle, 342 U.S. 1 (1951) where the Court opined that “[b]ail set at a figure higher than an amount reasonably calculated [to ensure the defendant’s presence at trial] is `excessive’ under the Eighth Amendment.”

      The bail schedule’s perpetuity subjects arrestees of all economic strata to unnecessary detention or needless bond expenses while simultaneously rendering the community vulnerable to those arrestees able to purchase their freedom despite a high level of risk to re-offend. This reality could be altered if bail determinations relied less on pre-determined monetary amounts and more on assessments of individual risk with a validated instrument. Harris County Pretrial Services has used such instruments since 1992 to assess the risk of pretrial misconduct presented by the defendants the Department interviews. According to the Houston Chronicle’s December 2, 2013 article, Probation Chief Says Success Lies in Risk Assessment, recognition for the utility of these assessments to improve probation outcomes is growing. Risk assessment’s designation as an evidence based practice for pre-trail decision-making should be the foundation to improve bail practices in Harris County as well. Maybe then, Chief Justice Rehnquist’s observation that “[i]n our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception” will be applicable here. United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987).

      Carol Oeller
      Former Director
      Harris County Pretrial Services

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        December 5, 2013 at 8:17 am

        Ms. Oeller- I appreciate your post and your contibutions. I would be pleased to meet with you. Your legal citations are a good reminder TO ALL of what the law is. I agree that if the law were followed there would be individualized risk assessment and a rebuttable presumption in favor of setting the least restrictive bonds. As you know better than most, the law isnt always exactly strictly adhered to on matters related to bond in Harris County.

        I am about 1/4 idealist, 3/4 pragmatist. While PTR bonds should be accorded to all that qualify, they arent. They probably never were. I dont want to get bogged down in a 2o year Alberti case. I want those in power to begin fixing the system now. The least controversial place to start is by systematically granting PTR bonds to poor people accused of non-violent crimes. It is not a comlete fix of the system by any stretch, but it will help the poor who are daily victimized while we all work together toward making the entire system more just.

        I am well aware that the Use of Pretrial Release Bonds was all but eliminated over a 15-20 year period as the result of an Unholy Alliance between some Bondsmen and the some members of the Judiciary. It is an ugly chapter in our history and one I intend to discuss soon.

        But, I admit I am far more interested in where we are going, then where we were. But the two are intertwined; you can hardly plan your future if you dont know your past.
        Best regards,
        Robb Fickman

        Reply
    18. tired dog

      December 6, 2013 at 3:03 am

      I’ve copied the names of these estimable jurists and when they sally forth to toss kibbles & bits at the faithful ‘tuff on crime’ voters there will be a question or two re release on PR.

      I imagine they will each hide behind the curtain of ‘judicial ethics constraints’ and duck.

      Reply
    19. Pat Montgomery

      December 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      In Bexar County, an appointed felony attorney is paid a half fee for a quick dismissal, and a double fee for an early guilty plea. I contended that it was an illegal reverse contingency fee in a criminal case. I asked the State Bar Ethics Committee to examine the issue. They waited eighteen months, and then published an ethics opinion in the October Bar Journal.

      Their opinion completely missed the issue presented regarding differing fixed fees. Instead, on their misinterpreted issue of hourly fees they offered a flawed reasoning involving the mistaken belief that garnering a dismissal is easier work for a lawyer than entering a guilty plea.

      In Bexar County misdemeanors, appointed counsel are paid $140.00, whether for a guilty plea upon first appearance, or for a dismissal after a dozen appearances. No itemization or token hourly compensation is permitted. Only if a jury is impaneled is the fee for the case raised to $500.00. Even then, no itemization or hourly compensation is permitted.

      Given these circumstances, an unknown percentage of hungry young student-loan-saddled lawyers may shade their advice to their clients, consciously or subconsciously, with an eye to a quick plea.

      Reply
    20. Robert Fickman

      December 8, 2013 at 10:43 pm

      Pat-
      The Bexar County Judiciary pays “a double fee for an early guilty plea”? Blood money paid for swift pleas of guilty. Sounds like these judges are encouraging ineffective assistance of counsel. Sounds like they need to check their moral compass, if they have one. The State Bar may say someting is ok, but that does not mean its ok. It is not ok to willfully design and perpetuate any system that ignores and Contravenes the United States Constitution.

      Some judges here are mad at me for speaking up. They can be mad, I dont give a damn. When judges embrace and perpetuate systems that contravene the Constitution, we are duty bound to speak up. Our oath, which the judges also took, was to support the Constitution, not judges who contravene it.

      Reply
    21. Abdul Akbar

      October 29, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Thank you Robert. Keep going.

      Reply
    22. Kathy

      February 16, 2015 at 4:38 pm

      You have no idea how grateful I am for your cause. I have one traffic ticket on my record. Now, age 46, I was arrested for harassment. I was protecting my pets, property and myself. Just today I was being cattle prodded into a too easy guilty plea or face the, unethical arduous task of probation with many stipulations. The reason; finances and health. I thank God I found you!

      Reply
      • Robert Fickman

        February 16, 2015 at 4:44 pm

        Thank you for the kind words. I call em like I see em.

        Reply
    23. Richard Wilson II, Ed. D.

      November 1, 2015 at 3:17 am

      Thank you for your letter and your contribution toward improving the systemic criminalization of Blacks, Browns and the Mentally Ill. I am the perfect example of how a person with a stellar career and background was taken advantage of at atime when I was mentally ill. I believe that I have the attorney that I need and I claim victory in advance. It should never be hard to defend the truth. I am deducing my experience into a professional white paper and share what I saw and experienced with my own eyes inside that slave ship. I submit that even a guilty man’s dignity and humanity must at all times be upheld. No person with a terminal illness and mental illness should be given a filthy concrete cage to sleep in for three days without pillow blanket. A place to bathe, soap to wash your hands and being forced to smell a watch fifty stranger use the restroom within arms length of where I slept is cruel and inhumane and attacks any credibility and violates common decency. Being denied my life sustaining medications…what gave them the right to serve as my judge and jury during a time I was supposed to be innocent and not yet proven guilty. I took whatever plea I could to get the hell out of that place because I was ill and it offended my soul. I loved this country and I left that jail feeling that my past love and commitment to our country has been diminished. If falsely accused in a case that was very easy to defend, then imagine what they have done to the kids who did not have the benefit of my knowledge and expertise. We need to fix this so that we can get back on the winning team in America. We needs the Grace of God more than ever is this day and age….

      Reply
    24. Anita L

      November 18, 2015 at 8:24 am

      Very well done and I fully agree. I had a brother in Harris County for a crime he didn’t commit. He was arrested, mistreated in the jail, ramrodded through the system, got a court appointed attorney who he NEVER laid eyes on.. and things went bad to worse. He got convicted of a crime he didn’t commit based on the testimoney of 2 liars with 156 discrepancies in testimony. He was told if he didn’t plea guilty, they (the prosecutor) would make sure he got the maximum sentence available, but if he did, he would get the lower end of the scale for punishment. I can’t believe that this “strategy” is allowed in the courts. Because he was poor, they (the prosecutors) tried to bully him into a plea bargain. The saying, “no money, no justice” is clearly evident in Harris County.

      Reply
    25. Pierre C.

      January 11, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      Thank you, Mr. Fickman, for what you stand for and your efforts here to begin to integrate a fairer system. I found this site because I was looking for reasons or similar stories to explain why I was railroaded into a guilty plea by the Harris County Criminal Court system. Your suggestions are a start but there’s still so much more to do. Good luck and Godspeed.

      Reply
    26. Richard E Wilson

      April 17, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      The current bail bonding system imposed upon citizens charged with a crime violates the spirit and truth of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution gaurantees that no citizen shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without “due process” of law. The U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens are “innocent until proven guilty”. Pre-trial confinement that restrains the liberty of the innocent citizen and is predicated on a citizen’s ability to pay a high bail bond amount is inherrently unfair and violates the citizens right to due process. Currently, a charge and confinement of the innocent defendant uses hearsay evidence to justify confinement which betrays the constitutions threshold of “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

      Bail bonding companies are just another industry that is making billions of dollars off of the pain and misery of poor defendant’s. Unless a court can prove with evidence that one has a history of evading arrest or fugitive activity, there is no reasonable justification for the use of bail bonds. If the citizen is innocent then there can be nothing other than total unrestrained liberty until a trial and conviction of guilt is secured from a fair and impartial tribunal. Due process should not be a pre-punishment that is unfairly weighted against the defendant. The justice system needs to make a hard choice, and determine what is the desired outcome of jail confinement and incarceration. If the purpose is solely punitive as it exists currently then either the state is intentionally disenfrachising citizenship of black, brown, poor and mentally ill and/or they are intentionally making a good citizen into an enemy of the state. If the desire is to rehabilitate, redeem and educate citizens who make bad choices then we should see fair, humane and just treatment. The current system of justice uses jail confinement as a tool for circumventing the rights of a citizen to due process, equal protections, participation in their defense and the right to a fair and impartial tribunal.

      Once the orange jump suit is put onto the defendant, “group think” sets into the minds of those involved in the justice system, corretional officers, public defenders, prosecutors and judges, even within the minds of our fellow citizens who subconsciously convict the innocent in the unconscious minds. The current system involves policies and rules that are demonstrate different sets of expectations for defendants over an officer of the court or judge. Our justice system should aknowledge that the role of a defendant is sacred and the defendant’s rights should not be usurped by hidden policies and practices that are tools of evil used to circumvent justice and deprive black citizens of their rights.

      The role of the citizen/defendasnt in a case is equally sacred as the role of the prosecutor and the judge. A system that is set up where all the actors are playing by different rules and expctations is a system that is inherently unfair and impartial. Tyrany is the sole reason for our nation declaring its independance against England. Currently, majority caucasian police officers, prosecutors and judges who actively and often abuse the public trust is nothing less than tyrany. I am quite aware of the strategy and the tactics that vigalante justice use to brush over criminal practices that are far more deprave than the worst bad actor found in the belly of the Harris County Slave Ship.

      Case law based on the biases of a predominantely caucasian judiciary strip the rights gauranteed by the U.S. Constituution from black citizens. The construct of “fairness” has one definition, and nothing short of that definition should be acceptable. I will not attach upon the behavior of the justice system cliche terms such as racism and discrimination…those terms can be easily explained away by a seasoned enemy of God. I will define the behavior in terms of the constructs of “good” and “evil”. Evil practices can never be inetgrated or mistaken from behavior that is good. Individuals who abuse the public trust to enage in the evil behavior should be immediately charged and incarcerated with enhanced senetences. If the trust is granted to police and judges who enjoy sovereign immunity from being prosecuted for their evil behavior. The lie offered as testimony by an evil police officer or prosecutor is most often believed over the truth submitted by the citizen/defendant. How do we reconcile this practice with the right to a fair and impartial tribunal? The practice is nothing short of tyranny. Therefore, I concur with my fraternity brother the late Dr. Martin Luther King who said that “the reform needed in the justice system does not simply involve pruning the leaves or trimming the branches but it involves pulling up the crooked and unjust system of justice by its roots”. The current system only benefits the rich and caucasian citizen…giving new meaning to justice as only relevant to “JUST-US”.

      I beseech all good men and women who are true beleivers to speak up, loudly and often and demand that pharoh let our people go! There are other options available that are less costly and more beneficial to the outcomes needed by our nation that incarceration. The current system is just a new twist on the same practices involved in the Salem Witch Trials. The leader of the free world cannot justify having the highest mass incarceration known to humanity. It is time for us to either “shit” or get off the pot in this country. The only person this nation has to blame for what is occurring is the silence of the majority. The indoctrinated school of thoughts are that a citizen/defendant must bite his/her tongue and depend upon a corrupt judge to serve the interest of justice. I adamantly deny that manner of behavior. Communication must be respectful to all people and at all times; however the truth should be spoken and the description and impact of that truth should not be silenced in the courts across the United States which have been established for the people, by the people, and of the people of the United States of America. Furthermore, why should anyone kiss the ass of a Judge who has chosen to become a servant of Satan in order to secure justice?

      Mass Incarceration of blacks is the problem of all Americans and it should be the mission that those committed to civil liberties should take up today not tomorrow. Understand me clearly when I shat there is no Ph. D., nor shall any impeccable use of the Queens English or any manner of current fashion worn by puffed up Blacks who falsely perceive that they have arrived while dressed up in a monkey suit will protect people of color from one day being caught up in the injustice. Nothing will hinder a black man from being unlawfully charged and forced to plead guilty in order to secure relief from such inhumane, deprave and animalistic conditions that I witnessed in jail. If I had known of the conditions previously, I would have made criminal justice reform my life’s work. I am not ashamed to talk openly, honestly and frequently about the injustice. The people who sat on the sidelines and did nothing are the ones who should be ashamed. However, children of abuse will always protect their abuser…Allah (swt) understand that I am all to familiar with protecting the reputation of my abusers. I am preparing for the worst as courts even after being presented with clear and convincing evidence of a person’s innocence…will still insist on jail confinement and allow the innocent to sit and wait. I shall not eat and engage in the peaceful protest of a hunger strike. Each day that I shall be restrained unlawfully of my liberties…
      I shall not eat. I seek change today on behalf of the countless innocent citizens who involuntarily submitted a plea of guilt after being subjected to the Harris County Plea Mill.

      Reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *