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Texas High Court Orders Release of Jailed Salon Owner

The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the release of a jailed Dallas salon owner, hours after Republican Governor Greg Abbott amended his Covid-19 executive orders to remove jail penalties for business owners who violated the rules.

DALLAS (CN) — The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the release of a jailed Dallas salon owner, hours after Republican Governor Greg Abbott amended his Covid-19 executive orders to remove jail penalties for business owners who violate the rules.

The high court granted Shelley Luther’s motion for emergency relief while her petition for writ of habeas corpus remains pending before the court.  

Luther left the Dallas County Jail around 1:45 p.m. flanked by her attorney, Warren Norred of Arlington. She was greeted by over a dozen cheering and unmasked supporters waving signs and red-white-and-blue balloons. She had spent about two days in jail.

Dallas County District Judge Eric Moye, a Democrat, held Luther in contempt of court Tuesday and sentenced her to seven days in county jail and $7,000 in fines. The judge scolded her for “selfishly” reopening her Salon a La Mode during the coronavirus pandemic and ignoring his order to close under an April 28 temporary restraining order.

This Tuesday, May 5, 2020 booking photo provided by the Dallas County Sheriff's Office shows Shelly Luther. Luther was ordered to spend a week in jail after she continued to operate her business despite being issued a citation last month for keeping open her Dallas salon due to restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. Luther's hearing occurred as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott relaxed more restrictions statewide, allowing barbershops and hair salons to reopen Friday. (Dallas County Sheriff's Office via AP)

The city had sued Luther after she repeatedly ignored warnings by police and a cease-and-desist letter from Dallas County that she was violating county and city shelter-in-place orders.

A masked Norred told reporters outside the jail Thursday he is “very pleased” the state’s high court intervened in the case. He noted his client’s release does not end the city’s lawsuit against her, but that “we will deal with the repercussions of that later.” He said Luther is “looking forward to seeing her family.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, Moye offered Luther the chance to avoid jail time if she apologized and agreed to close her salon until closure orders are lifted. Wearing a black face mask, Luther declined while stating her respect for the court.

“Feeding my kids is not selfish,” she said. “I am not closing the salon.”

Moye said Luther’s defiance of the court “was open, flagrant and intentional.”

“The defendants, although having been given an opportunity to do so, have expressed no contrition, remorse or regret for their contemptuous action,” his four-page order states.

One day later, Abbott announced that nail and hair salons and barber shops can open on May 8. In a bid to get Luther out of jail, he amended his orders Thursday to retroactively open such businesses on April 2.

“To the extent any order issued by local officials in response to Covid-19 would allow confinement in jail of a person inconsistent with Executive Order GA-21 or this executive order, that order is hereby superseded retroactive to April 2, 2020,” the governor’s amended order states.

Several Republican state officials have blasted Judge Moye for jailing Luther. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick donated $7,000 Wednesday to cover her fines and volunteered to serve seven days in home confinement in her place.

A GoFundMe campaign in support of Luther reached over $500,000 in donations as of Thursday afternoon.

Abbott said jailing business owners who are “shut down through no fault of their own is wrong.”

“I am eliminating jail for violating an order, retroactive to April 2, superseding local orders,” Abbott tweeted. “Criminals shouldn’t be released to prevent Covid-19 just to put business owners in their place.”

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton said the Texas Supreme Court “correctly addressed Ms. Luther’s excessive punishment” and jailing.

“No Texan should face imprisonment for peacefully resisting an order that temporarily closed a lawful business and drastically limited their ability to provide for their family through no fault of their own,” he said in a statement. “Texans must all work together to overcome this crisis, and ensuring freedom from excessive punishment is critical.”

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