Four different law firms will represent county officials and departments sued by the American Civil Liberties Union over the county’s bail system.
Lawyers will individually represent the county government, the county district court judges, the county courts-at-law and the county’s magistrate judges, county officials said.
The county is not using its own legal services because the case could create conflicts of interest for those attorneys, said Robert Boemer, the director of Galveston County’s legal department. The county’s in-house legal department doesn’t have the time to solely focus on the lawsuit, Boemer said. The county will pay for the costs of the legal representation, because the courts are funded with county money, he said.
Commissioners unanimously voted to approve engagement letters to the law firms Akerman, Mills Shirley, Mcleod Alexander Powel & Apffel and Greer, Herz & Adams last week. Commissioners plan to finalize the agreements with firms at another meeting in the near future, Boemer said.
The ACLU sued Galveston County, and its judge and magistrates on April 8. The lawsuit claims Galveston County’s courts violate due process rights and unjustly harm indigent people accused of crimes by operating a cash bail system that favors wealthier defendants while encouraging poorer defendants to either plead guilty or sit in jail.
The lawsuit came about six months after the ACLU gave the county a deadline to reform its jail system or face a lawsuit. While some reforms have been implemented, the union sued after being told that other reforms could take up to a year to implement.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Aaron Booth, 36, of Galveston, who had been arrested on charges of possession of a controlled substance on the same day the lawsuit was filed. The ACLU has filed a motion asking for the case to be approved as a class-action lawsuit, which would allow more plaintiffs to be added to the proceedings.
Galveston County District Court Judges Kerry Neves, Lonnie Cox, John Ellisor, Patricia Grady, Anne Darring and Michelle Slaughter; Galveston County Court at Law Judges John Grady, Barbara Roberts and Jack Ewing; Galveston County Magistrates Mark Baker, Kerri Foley and James Woltz; and District Attorney Jack Roady were all named in the lawsuit.
None of the plaintiffs have filed a response to to the lawsuit as of Sunday. Court records indicate that responses are due in June.