Attorney Michael P. Fleming Interviewed on Recent Order to Not Release Harris County Inmates During COVID-19
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo made headlines on April 1 when she called the county jail “a ticking time bomb” due to the potential for COVID-19 spread and ordered the sheriff to release low-risk inmates who had been accused of certain nonviolent offenses and had no prior convictions. District Judge Herb Ritchie took swift action on April 3 to void the order to free the inmates, though, instead instructing the sheriff to “ignore and wholly disregard” Hidalgo’s order.
Michael P. Fleming, former Harris County Attorney, was interviewed by the Houston Chronicle and appeared on The Michael Berry Show podcast to discuss the clashing orders. “It’s not a frivolous thing that he [Ritchie] did,” Fleming told the Houston Chronicle. “A district judge under the Texas Constitution has supervisory control.”
As Fleming explained further on The Michael Berry Show, although Hidalgo’s title is “Harris County Judge,” she serves as the county’s chief executive in a non-judicial role. The felony district judges are the ones who have jurisdiction over who should be in jail, who should be released from jail, and under what conditions.
“A county judge that is not a criminal district court judge has no business interfering with that jurisdiction,” Fleming told Michael Berry.
He noted the importance of the separation of powers between the two. “These are both independently elected officials. … They all have their very specific areas of jurisdiction, and they protect it. And it should be that way.”
“The criminal justice system needs to be run by the criminal justice professionals and officials that are elected to do that, not by somebody with no criminal justice experience,” Fleming continued.
Between the time that Hidalgo instructed the sheriff to begin releasing inmates and the time Ritchie squashed that decision, “only a handful” of people were actually released, the Chronicle reported. However, those released had been facing charges of “drug possession, unauthorized use of a vehicle, evading arrest, interfering with the duties of a public servant, theft, fraud, and tampering with a government record.”
Those who oppose releasing the inmates have argued that they could pose a threat to public safety during what is already a scary time. Others say that releasing certain inmates from crowded jails could help prevent problems down the line related to overburdening the healthcare system.
District Judge Josh Hill told the Chronicle that he expected the felony judges to evaluate the situation and coordinate their own effort to release inmates as appropriate.
About Michael Fleming
Michael P. Fleming has been practicing law in the Houston area for more than 30 years. He was elected as Harris County Attorney in 1996 and was re-elected in 2000. He has represented clients in the state and federal trial and appellate courts, including winning cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Mr. Fleming is Board Certified as a Specialist in Personal Injury Trial Law and Real Estate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Mr. Fleming is available for media interviews and legal analysis on current events. To schedule a time to speak with him, contact us now.
Michael P. Fleming is a highly experienced litigator who has argued and won a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a Houston resident who was twice elected to serve as the Harris County Attorney. He is also an avid runner who has completed eight marathons, to date, including two in Ireland. Only a small group of Texas lawyers are Board Certified as specialists in both Personal Injury Trial Law and Real Estate Law. Michael is one of them. He also proudly holds his B.A. degree from the University of Saint Thomas and his J.D. degree from the University of Houston College of Law.