Written Testimony of Alaska State Senator Mia Costello Submitted to Texas Legislature

In the most recent Texas legislative session, Texas considered several bills to propose certain reforms to the Texas bail process. Several of the bills included matters that had been attempted in Alaska and were considered failures and were repealed. Consequently, the Majority Leader of the Alaska Senate provided written testimony to the Texas Legislature. In part the testimony stated:

“I write to you today as the Majority Leader in the Alaska Senate, a fellow lawmaker, and an initial bill sponsor for major criminal justice reform legislation passed in 2016. Unfortunately, since those reforms were passed, we have seen tremendous negative consequences to our communities. Last session, I introduced a repeal bill and this session, Alaska Governor Dunleavy has introduced a package of bills to repeal and replace what remains of SB91.”

To read the testimony in it’s entirety click HERE.

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TECHNICAL FLAWS OF PRETRIAL RISK ASSESSMENTS RAISE GRAVE CONCERNS: Can 27 leading researchers be wrong?

In July of 2019, twenty-seven of the nation’s leading researchers in the area of predictive algorithms sent letters of concern to several political leaders in California and Missouri.  These researchers represented a broad spectrum of academic institutions including Harvard, MIT, Princeton, NYU, Columbia and UC Berkeley. These letters outlined the concern that these researchers had about the growing support for the use of algorithms in the criminal justice system, specifically in California and Missouri.  Both states have recently planned to make wholesale changes to their criminal justice systems by incorporating the use of risk assessments into their pretrial processes.  The correspondence from these 27 researchers was intended as a warning to these jurisdictions to beware of these algorithms.

According to the research group, these algorithms have fundamental flaws that will lead to negative consequences.  They stated, “Although pretrial risk assessment tools are often promoted as an essential part of bail reform that can help judges make more informed and objective pretrial decisions, these tools suffer from serious methodological flaws that undermine their accuracy and effectiveness. As a result, pretrial risk assessments do not increase the likelihood of better pretrial outcomes, much less guarantee them.”

Accompanying the letter was a research report entitled, “Technical Flaws of Pretrial Risk Assessments Raise Grave Concerns.”  The report concluded that “Pretrial risk assessments do not guarantee or even increase the likelihood of better pretrial outcomes. Risk assessment tools can simply shift or obscure problems with current pretrial practices.”

The 27 research scientists conclude, “We strongly recommend turning to other reforms.”

You can read the press release by clicking HERE.

You can read the letter of concern in it’s entirety by clicking HERE.

Free Releases Gone Bad

While bail reform advocates cheerfully support the wholesale free release of defendants who have been accused of a crime, the results are rarely something to brag about.   Over the past three months, there have been several of stories about people being released from jail thanks to bail reform.  Most of the time, these releases end badly.

Nonprofit Pays Bail For Man Who Attacked His Wife, Hours Later He Murders Her

Read the full story by clicking HERE.

Teen who shot HPD officer was out on P.R. bond

Read the full story by clicking HERE.

Camp Esperanza- It’s For Kids!

Bondsmen Giving Back

To coincide with The Professional Bondsmen of Texas’ 49th annual convention, the Steven G. Whitlock Memorial Golf Tournament (“SGW Memorial”) is being held in San Antonio for the first time, after 29 years of taking place in Dallas. The annual event that benefits children battling cancer will tee off at 1:00 PM on Wednesday, October 9 at The Quarry Golf Course. 

The charity golf tournament was founded by Mike Whitlock, twin brother to Steven who, in 1989 at the age of 26, lost his life to brain cancer.  Struggling to deal with the death of a young man who lived life with passion and was friends with seemingly everyone he ever met, Mike and his family came up with the perfect way to honor his memory.  Through this fun event, the SGW Memorial has raised more than a half million dollars over the years — with all the money going to send kids to Camp Esperanza outside Dallas.  The summer camp offers boys and girls battling cancer a week of fun and friendship while building confidence and inspiring hope.

Every year, a large number of Texas bail agents with big hearts get together to participate in the golf tournament, led by Mike, the Executive Vice President for American Surety Company.  When Steven fell ill years ago, Mike found countless bail agents and others in the bail industry throughout the nation rallying together in support.  After Steven passed away, it became clear their dedication to the cause of helping just one person had become a full-on commitment to aiding as many cancer patients as possible.  Although people from all walks of life have participated in and generously supported the SGW Memorial Golf Tournament over the years, many earn their living in the bail bond industry.  According to Mike, “the support of those working in the bail industry has been nothing short of amazing.”

One such supporter is Ken W. Good, an attorney who serves on the board of The Professional Bondsmen of Texas.  He knows first-hand the urgent need to support the cause of children fighting cancer and cancer-related illnesses. His own daughter, Laurel, underwent a life-saving bone marrow transplant at the age of five after her blood platelet levels plummeted to dangerously low levels due to her being born with TAR Syndrome.  The months following surgery were difficult when her doctors suggested that she go to Camp Esperanza which would take place a few months later.  Laurel’s visit to Camp Esperanza proved to be instrumental to her recovery. 

Ken had actually known Mike Whitlock for years through their shared connection in the bail industry, seeing each other from time-to-time at various bail events.  On one particular occasion, both were attending this very golf tournament when a remarkable “ah-ha” moment took place when Ken realized the event was benefiting the very camp his own daughter was attending at that moment!  Knowing they both shared a common cause, it didn’t take much for Ken to throw his support behind Mike and the SGW Memorial Golf Tournament.

Despite being in existence for 30 years, SGW Memorial and its annual charity golf tournament have “flown under the radar” all this time, having never solicited any media attention, while supported purely at a grassroots level.  Other high-profile charities may have raised more money in comparable time frames, but none have worked more on a personal, one-on-one level with their donors and volunteers than SGW Memorial.  The results are a consistent commitment from the men and women familiar to one another from their work serving their communities in the bail industry, eager to step away from their jobs to serve a higher cause.

Many children are helped through SGW Memorial’s fundraising efforts.  The cost to attend the camp is $500 per child and there is a long waiting list.  Sadly, some boys and girls won’t make it before enough money is raised for them to attend.

That first year when Ken was contemplating sending Laurel to Camp Esperanza, he was hesitant. He said to his wife, “Isn’t her immune system compromised? She still has a port and still takes anti-rejection drugs.  Should she be out and about at all at any camp?”  His worries were alleviated when his wife reminded him that there would be doctors and nurses on-site and that the facility even gives chemo during camp. Eventually, Ken saw how important it was in Laurel’s battle to take a break and spend time in a fun-filled environment with other kids facing similar challenges. There’s an instant understanding amongst the children who attend the camp. Nobody has to explain, for example, why they’ve lost their hair or why they might tire easily. Everyone just knows and accepts the circumstances with consideration and kindness.

Today, Ken’s daughter is a happy 14-year-old who plays the trumpet in her high school band. Since the camp’s age limit for the kids is 15, next year will be Laurel’s last year in attendance. Laurel has attended the camp since she was 6.  The lessons Laurel learned and the love she received each year during that week is something that she so looked forward to, will stay with her forever.

To donate to the Steven G Whitlock Memorial Corporation, send a check to SGW Memorial c/o PBT, 3616 Far W. Blvd, Suite 366, Austin, TX 78731 or visit www.sgwmemorial.com.

My San Antonio today listing is HERE.

Texas Public Radio listing is HERE.

Amicus Filed by Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Board

The Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Board filed an amicus arguing that certain provisions of the proposed Consent Decree allow defendants to manipulate the Criminal Justice System and to further terrorize their victims. You can download or review the amicus brief by CLICKING HERE.

First, the Domestic Violence Coordinating board objects to the portion of the consent decree that allows defendants to not appear for certain court hearings even though they are required to appear under Texas law. Second, the amicus objects to the portion of the proposed Consent Decree that allows the defendant to miss a certain number of court hearings and no punitive action can be taken against the defendant. Third, the amicus objects to the portion of the proposed consent decree that limits or prohibits a trial court from issuing warrants for the defendants failure to appear. Fourth, the amicus objects to the new rules set out in the proposed Consent Decree that requires certain notices be given to the defendant and proof that the defendant received them and had no good faith in failing to appear before a failure to appear can be issued.

The amicus documents that shelters in Harris County turn away approximately 77.5% of the victims who approach them because they are full. A victim on average stays 41 days at a shelter.

By and large the arguments raised by this amicus focus solely on the public safety concerns that are raised by numerous amicus briefs. This amicus raises issues that touch on whether they violate Texas law, but this brief does not go the next step. The brief does not cite any law in support of its arguments. Therefore, the brief is on policy alone.

Police Officers’ Allege Collusion in Harris County Federal Court Proposed Settlement

In the many twists and turns of the Federal County litigation in Harris County regarding bail practices, the parties have filed a proposed Consent Decree and proposed settlement for the Court of approve. The trial court set August 22, 2019 as the deadline for any objections to be filed. Nine groups file amicus brief raising objections and or concerns regarding the proposed Consent Decree.

The amicus brief filed by the Harris County Deputies’ Organization, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #39 and the amicus filed by Commissioner Raddick who voted against the proposal in the Harris County Commissioners’ Court allege improper collusion between Commissioner Rodney Ellis and the plaintiffs’ attorneys. They allege that Ellis and the plaintiffs are seeking to weaponize the litigation to impose significant financial obligations on the county for political purposes and not to satisfy any constitutional requirements. Commissioner Raddick cites various interviews and youtube videos to support the claim that Commissioner Ellis is not looking after the best interests of the county; but instead, is seeking to impose a political agenda on the County with significant financial obligations which are not required and which will not be able to be reversed for 7 years.

The groups filing objections and/or raising concerns regarding the proposed Consent Decree are as follows:

Two other groups filed a motion seeking more time until September 2, 2019 to file their objections to the proposed Consent Decree and Settlement. These two groups are the Houston Area Police Chief Association and the Texas School District Police chief’s Association.

The numerous briefs other additional arguments to the proposed Consent Decree. The Harris County District Attorney, who initially supported the plaintiffs is now objecting to the proposed Consent Decree and proposed settlement. Kim Ogg maintains that the settlement raises substantial public safety issues and violates Texas law in numerous respects regarding how defendants are allowed to cancel hearings unilaterally, how bonds are forfeited and warrants issued. Ogg maintains that the proposed Consent Decree will making it almost impossible to prosecute criminal cases.

In addition to the District Attorney, the Harris County Deputies, City of Pasadena Police Chief and the Harris County Bondsmen Association allege that the proposed Consent Decree violates Texas law in numerous ways. They allege in part that the proposed Consent Decree violates Chapter 17 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure regarding how bail is set in Texas. They maintain that the proposed settlement seeks to change Texas law in ways that are the exclusive purview of the Texas Legislature.

The Commissioners object to the proposed settlement also alleging that it seeks to impose significant financial obligations on the taxpayers of Harris County when these funds are not required to satisfy the constitutional issues raised in this suit.

Finally, almost all of the objections raise issues of public safety and cite examples of how the proposed system which is currently being used in Harris County is failing. Equal Justice Now and Kim Ogg cite numerous examples where defendants have been release and continue to commit more crimes and the judges have concluded that they have no discretion but are required to continue to release these defendants.

These amicus briefs and the motion for more time can be viewed and downloaded by clicking on the list above. The list is hyperlinked to each brief.

This is a fast moving story. For additional information call Ken W. Good 903.780.7731.

Crime Stoppers Files Letter In Harris County Federal Case Raising Concerns With Public Safety

Crimes Stopper of Houston filed a letter with the federal court in Houston raising concerns with the proposed Consent Decree. You can download the letter by CLICKING HERE. The letter is signed by Andy Kahan who is the Director of Victim Services and Advocacy. Mr. Kahan asks the Court to deny the proposed Consent Decree.

Mr. Kahan raises two main points. First, the letter says that they will be impacted by the proposed settlement and that the revolving door of release is having a substantial impact on public safety. Second, Mr. Kahan argues that the judiciary is unwilling to exercise any discretion in considering public safety.

Further the letter references the brief filed by the District Attorney’s office. This is important because at the time the Crime Stoppers filed its brief, the D.A.’s brief had not been filed. This indicates that there was a certain amount of coordination between the district attorneys’ office and the Crime Stoppers’ letter.

The letter does not raise any legal arguments.

Overall, the letter brief adds little value to the discussion on whether the proposed Consent Decree should be approved by the Trial Court. This is the first of many amicus briefs that will raise the issue of public safety.