A federal judge Wednesday ordered Galveston County to provide court-appointed attorneys to arrestees during their earliest appearances in the judicial system.
The injunction order from U.S. District Court Judge George Hanks mostly follows recommendations a federal magistrate judge laid out last month.
The judge stopped short of ruling the county’s judicial system unconstitutional, as a civil rights group had asked, but his order jolted county leaders.
But because Hanks didn’t specify how much time the county had to comply with his order, officials were scrambling Wednesday evening to have defense attorneys at bail hearings, and state lawyers were asking Hanks for 30 days to create a permanent system.
Meanwhile, civil rights attorneys celebrated what they said was a groundbreaking decision.
In a three-page order, Hanks directed the county to provide defense attorneys to any indigent person charged with a felony at the first appearance before a magistrate judge at the Galveston County Jail.
Such appearances are among the earliest steps in the judicial process, when arrestees are informed about their civil rights and given a chance to tell the court about their ability to afford bail.
The order isn’t surprising. Federal Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison last month recommended the injunction to Hanks.
The order is the latest development in a lawsuit the America Civil Liberty Union of Texas filed against the county over its pretrial procedures.
The civil liberties union sued in April 2018 on behalf of Aaron Booth, 37, a Galveston man arrested on drug possession charges, who spent 54 days in the county jail because he could not afford bail, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses the county of operating an unconstitutional bail system based on wealth and of violating arrestees’ constitutional rights to an attorney and to due process of law.
While Wednesday’s order changes the system, it wasn’t a total indictment of the county’s pretrial procedures.
Galveston County had made significant improvement to its bail procedures, Hanks wrote. He refused a request by the civil liberties union to call the county’s system unconstitutional.
In a statement, the civil liberties union celebrated Hanks’ order to provide defense attorneys as a victory. It is the first time a federal court has concluded that defense attorneys are required at initial bail hearings, the group said.
“It’s a matter of basic fairness that you should get a lawyer before a judge decides whether to lock you in jail,” said Trisha Trigilio, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “We are pleased that the court has ordered this change to bail hearings in Galveston County.”
The civil liberties union has argued that without an attorney at initial bail hearings, arrestees spend more time in jail and face a higher likelihood of being harmed.
Hanks’ order did not say when the county had to start providing defense attorneys. One official said the county was working to have defense attorneys ready to represent indigent arrestees as soon as Wednesday evening.
At about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Texas Attorney General’s office, which is representing the county’s district court judges in the lawsuit, filed a motion asking Hanks for 30 days to come up with a plan.
“To not allow such a grace period would risk plunging the current system into chaos,” Assistant Attorney General Adam Arthur Biggs wrote.
Attorneys and Edison will discuss the grace period in a telephone conference Thursday morning.
The civil liberties union had little sympathy for the request for more time, Trigilio said.
“This case has been pending since April 2018,” she said. “And in January of this year, we filed our proposed preliminary injunction motion, and more than a month ago, Judge Edison recommended a preliminary injunction requiring that lawyers be provided at initial bail hearings.
“This is not something that should be catching the defendants off guard and they should be prepared to implement this injunction immediately.”
While the issues with providing defense attorneys are being settled, the sides also have been ordered to attend a mediation hearing to resolve remaining issues raised in the lawsuit, Trigilio said.
A building long occupied by a beloved restaurant that drew celebrities and locals during its nearly 40-year life is scheduled to be torn down next month by order of the city.
Clary’s Seafood Restaurant became an island staple known for good food and the hospitality of owner Clary Milburn, who opened his restaurant in 1977 and served Louisiana-style dishes until his death in 2016, when the restaurant closed.
Health and safety concerns have led the city to order demolition of the old Clary’s Seafood Restaurant Building, 8509 Teichman Road, putting to rest any hopes his family would reopen what once was one of the island’s most popular restaurants where celebrities and locals flocked.
The restaurant was a dream of Milburn’s, who waited tables at Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant’s exclusive Pelican Club and was part-time cook at the former Jack Tar Hotel, said his youngest daughter, Charlotte Mays.
“He was a self-made everything,” Mays said. “He knew how to make it be great.”
But the building is riddled with foundation rot, and the roof and support beams are deteriorating, according to an Aug. 12 order from the city of Galveston to tear down the old building.
“It is dilapidated and in danger of collapse,” city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said. “The property is infested with rodents, and there is loose lumber, siding, debris and broken windows.”
Walking through the restaurant Tuesday afternoon, Mays pointed to various parts of the floor people should avoid walking on because it’s too soft.
The family tried to fix up the building, but it just cost too much, Mays said. Besides, her father wouldn’t want people to be served in a place that was unsafe for customers, Mays said.
Dexter Milburn, Clary Milburn’s son, worked as the head chef for the restaurant for years.
He started working with his father when he was in middle school, Milburn said.
“He taught me a lot,” Milburn said.
Now, inspired by his father, he wants to open his own restaurant, Milburn said.
“My dad started small,” Milburn said. “He started with 15 tables. Next thing you know, we had 119 tables.”
Hurricane Ike in 2008 hit the restaurant particularly hard and a fire damaged the building in 2011, after which the restaurant opened on only limited hours.
After Milburn died Jan. 31, 2016, the restaurant closed for good.
The restaurant wouldn’t be Clary’s without Clary, Mays said.
“It was everything our mom and dad wanted it to be, great food with great service and stories to remember for a lifetime,” the Milburn family said in a statement.
City crews or a city contractor will demolish the landmark next month or in early November, Barnett said.
It’s tough to see the building come down, said Milburn’s grandson Wayne Milburn.
“I have real fond memories of growing up there and playing in the back,” Wayne Milburn said. “It’s been pretty much a staple of my family as long as I can remember.”
The family plans to sell the land after demolition of the building, and hopes the new owner will open up a new restaurant, Mays said.
The family does have a potential buyer of the property, but nothing has been finalized, she said.
Mays hopes that once the building is torn down, she and her siblings can erect some kind of memorial to mark the restaurant’s importance to Galveston, she said.
“This was his dream,” Mays said. “You want your kids’ dreams to be your own but it don’t always go like that. You just have to have your history and memories live on in people’s hearts.”
Opal Lee, a 92-year-old champion of making Juneteenth an official National Day of Observance, is coming Saturday to Galveston to walk 2.5 miles and promote her project.
Before arriving in Galveston, Lee will attend the presidential debate in Houston on Thursday at the invitation of candidate Bernie Sanders. There, she hopes to reach out to other candidates and tell them about her Juneteenth initiative, she said.
Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, originated in Galveston when Union Gen. Gordon Granger, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, came to town and announced basic freedoms to former slaves and freed African Americans, causing great, emancipation-based celebrations that spread eventually to all parts of the country.
“I just sing it from the housetops,” Lee said. “I see Juneteenth as an educational opportunity, to celebrate freedom and remind young people not to take freedom for granted.”
Lee first launched her campaign in 2016, just as Barack Obama was leaving the White House. She relaunched it this year with walks in Detroit, Virginia and Oklahoma. Galveston will be the fourth stop of a planned journey to visit all 46 states that officially celebrate Juneteenth.
Born Oct. 7, 1926, in Marshall, Lee moved to Fort Worth at the age of 10. She leads the community-wide Juneteenth celebration there and regularly volunteers delivering food boxes for the Community Food Bank.
She is a member of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation that asks people to contact their senators and request that they support legislation to update U.S. Code 36, listing national observances and holidays.
The Galveston Walk will take off at 8 a.m. Saturday, starting at 27th Street and Seawall Boulevard and the public is invited to walk with Lee through the streets of Galveston, past historic landmarks, and to city hall, she said.
“The walk is simply trying to draw attention to the fact that we need 100,000 signatures online, on a petition that will be there Oct. 20 to Nov. 20, to pass on to Congress,” Lee said. “That’s what I’m trying to get across.”