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The Judge and the single mom

There's no real point to this particular story and I guess in truth most of my stories have no real point they're just interesting and sometimes entertaining reading. Sitting in a downtown Houston Bail Bond Company for 30 years provides for so many stories and I wish I could tell them all but I can't because it would be inappropriate reading.

This one I like because justice oftentimes seems so unfair but for the woman in this story my heart felt that justice and fairness were in harmony. Things change through the years and many of the judges of the past left the bench years ago, back then they were approachable. These days it seems that so many people go through the criminal justice system that our judges are overwhelmed, perhaps not, I have recently heard some very good things about several of our judges.

I doubt that what had occurred in this story is likely to happen today, this particular judge had a policy of keeping his door open to all and to sit and speak with him in his chambers was simply a matter of stepping in and saying good morning judge.

We had posted a bond for a woman charged with theft, (shoplifting). When she had gotten released she came to our office and it was obvious that she was shaken up by the experience of being arrested and taken to the Harris County Jail; for her just the idea of going to court was traumatic.

She kept asking me, "What do you think they will do to me?" and "What will happen to my children?"

Her mother was a retired teacher; she was in her late seventies and when she was filling out her paperwork before we made the bond she said, "There must be something wrong, my daughter could never steal anything, she just wouldn't even know how." It was pretty obvious that the woman filling out the paperwork had never had any dealings with Bail Bonds in Houston.

Sitting there filling out her paperwork the daughter was explaining to me that she was shopping with a friend and that her friend had shoplifted some makeup, they were together, her friend was just keeping her company that day. Her friend had not purchased anything. As they were leaving the store the friend dropped the stolen makeup into one of her bags without her knowledge and the moment they stepped out of the store security stopped them and they were both arrested.

She told the store security person that she had no idea how the makeup had gotten into her bag and that she had not purchased any makeup and that there had to be some kind of mistake. The friend admitted to the security guard that she had stolen the makeup and that her friend had no knowledge of her placing the stolen merchandise into one of her bags but both women were arrested and charged anyway.

She filled out her paperwork and cried. She was just as upset that her elderly mother who was on a fixed income had to come to her rescue. She had several siblings and her mother had never had to get any of them out of jail before.

The woman was poor; she was a single parent; she held two part time jobs that paid very little; she had three children, two that had not started school yet. She had no car, she would be catching a bus to get to court. She wondered if the day care would be open early enough for her to drop her children off and still be able to make it to court on time, she hoped her job would understand, she cried some more.

She had made it to court ok the first time, however she missed her second court appearance and her bail bond had been forfeited and a warrant had been issued for her arrest. It didn't make any sense to me; she just wasn't the type to miss court. I called her mother and she told me that her daughter was worried because she had been told that she must hire a lawyer and she didn't have the money to hire one, but that she just couldn't believe she had missed court. She told me that she worked part time at a little greasy spoon café and gave me the telephone number.

The woman answered the phone and immediately started crying when she heard my voice. I told her not to worry that we would make arrangements to get her bond reinstated, but that I needed to know why she had missed court. She told me that she would explain the whole thing to me but asked if she could call me later to explain because she was at work.

I thought about it, told the office that I was leaving for a while and went straight to the café. She was surprised when I walked in and asked if there was any way that we could drop her daughters off with her mother before I took her to jail.

The café had around five tables and room for eight at the counter stools. One child was sitting on a stool at the counter; the other was behind the counter with her mother holding on to her apron, her mother was cleaning the grill. It was about 10:30AM and we were the only ones in the café. I was a little surprised myself to see that she had her children with her at work. I told her that I was not there to take her to jail but that I did want to find out what had happened, and I asked if she always brought her children to work with her.

She told me that they had a cold and the day care had said that she would have to keep them home today, and that she had no choice but to take them to work with her. They were too much for her elderly mother to care for and she would lose her job if she didn't make it to work.

She looked at me and started to sob, she apologized for not going to court but said that she really didn't know what to do, and she guessed now that she would be going to jail. I asked why she didn't go; was it because she had no one to watch her children? She said she didn't feel like she had any choice that the assistant District Attorney had told her that if she did not have an attorney with her the next time she came to court that she would be going to jail.

In those days if a person made bail the court took the position that they should also be able to afford their own lawyer and that if the State of Texas was going to appoint an attorney to represent them that it was only fair that the State of Texas pay for their room and board as well and back to jail they went. Many people who could not afford to hire an attorney had their bail bond revoked and they were placed back in jail.

This didn't seem fair to me and I told her that I was going to speak to the judge, that I didn't know if it would do any good and that she would have to come to my office the following morning no matter what so that we could try and get her bond reinstated, back then another policy for many judges was not to agree to a bond reinstatement unless the defendant was there in court in front of the judge.

I told her that going to jail was a definite possibility but that she truly had no choice that she couldn't just pretend that none of this was happening. I left the café and went straight to the court house. The door to the judge was open and he was reading something, I stepped in and asked if he would speak with me. The judge was very nice and motioned for me to come in and have a seat.

I explained all that I could and told the judge that I wasn't there trying to play lawyer or trying in any way to circumvent protocol. I was simply hoping that the judge would agree to reinstate the bond even though the woman had not made arrangements to hire an attorney and hoped that the judge might consider giving her more time to try and get an attorney hired.

The judge looked at me and said that he wanted to understand fully what had happened, and he seemed very interested in the fact that I was told by the defendant that she was told by the assistant prosecutor that if she had not hired an attorney on her next court setting that she would be going to jail.

I explained that I was told exactly that. The judge picked up his telephone and told someone that he wanted the assistant prosecutors in his court in his office immediately.

The assistant prosecutors came in and the judge pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and flipped it open. He told the prosecutors that he wanted all of them to take a close look at the badge in his wallet; he said it says Harris County Judge on it. He then said that makes me the elected judge in this court, not you and not your boss and that he was the one who decided who would be going to jail and who would not be going to jail in his courtroom, and that if any of them ever wished to compare badges with him they would find out real quick what the inside of a jail cell looked like, then he dismissed them.

He told me that I had better have the woman in his courtroom the next morning or that I might also find out what the inside of a jail cell looks like.

The following morning as we entered the courtroom, the judge immediately raised his hand and interrupted the issue before him, he told the attorney standing there and the prosecutor to step away from his bench and he told the woman and me to approach the bench.

The judge asked the woman about her theft charge, her children, her employment, her ability to hire and attorney, her criminal record and several other things then he picked up his gavel and banged it once, said case dismissed for lack of evidence and she and I stood there for a moment in shock not really sure about what had just happened. Then the judge looked down at us and asked why we were still standing there.

I told Santa Claus all about that judge that year and I hope he was nice to him.
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Houston, Texas 77008
Harris County Lic.# 74531
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