GALVESTON

A federal judge this week declined to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit filed against Galveston County earlier this year, saying it wasn’t clear whether the county had made effective changes to its bail-setting practices.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in April claiming the county’s methods of setting bail violated the rights of low-income people who cannot afford to get themselves out jail while awaiting trial.

The ACLU sued on behalf Aaron Booth, a 37-year-old man arrested on drug charges in April and held on $20,000 bond.

Booth was booked into the jail without being asked whether he could afford bail, and the civil rights group argued the system that allowed that to happen was “wealth-based imprisonment.”

The lawsuit is similar to others the ACLU has filed in Harris and Dallas counties.

The county in October argued the case should be dismissed, saying it had made changes correcting problems cited in the lawsuit.

But in a 45-page memo, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison said he wasn’t persuaded by county’s claims.

To rule in the county’s favor, the court needed to find the behavior “could not reasonably be expected to recur,” Edison said.

“Although the county contends that ‘steps have been taken to put in place additional procedural safeguards to ensure an arrestee’s ability to pay is taken into consideration,’ the record is not altogether clear as to what actual changes have been made to the county’s bail setting process,” Edison said.

He pointed to testimony from Magistrate Court Judge Keri Foley and District Court Judge Lonnie Cox, that indicated they did not feel compelled to follow the county’s new bail procedures.

Edison wrote that he would be willing to reconsider his opinion during future stages of the trial.

The lawsuit now appears to be heading to a class certification hearing in which the court will decide whether Booth is representative of a larger group of people potentially harmed by the county’s bail practices.

No future hearings had been set as of Wednesday afternoon, according to court records.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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