Texas Judge Under Fire for Comments on Black Defendants

HOUSTON (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas asked a state judicial ethics commission Tuesday to reprimand a judge for saying he does not trust young black men to show up for court because he believes they don’t respect the criminal justice system.

Michael McSpadden, a Republican, has served as a Harris County felony court judge in Houston since he was appointed to the bench in 1982. He is running for re-election in the March 6 primary, hoping to add to his streak of eight straight winning campaigns dating back to 1986.

McSpadden’s name recognition among voters will likely be higher for this primary election than his eight previous ones, due to comments he made to the Houston Chronicle that were published last Friday.

The Chronicle interviewed McSpadden for its investigation into the bail-setting policies of Harris County felony and misdemeanor court judges.

McSpadden told the Chronicle that for at least 12 years, he had a policy of telling magistrates who set bail at probable cause hearings not to grant personal recognizance bonds, for which no upfront fee is required, to felony defendants whose cases were assigned to his court.

He said he did not trust magistrates to make those decisions as he was concerned that defendants would not show up for court, or they would be arrested on other charges while out on bond.

McSpadden, who became a judge after working for four years as a Harris County assistant district attorney, embroiled himself in controversy with comments he made about young black men to the Chronicle.

“The young black men – and it’s primarily young black men rather than young black women – charged with felony offenses, they’re not getting good advice from their parents,” he told the newspaper. “Who do they get advice from? Rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter, which tell you, ‘Resist police,’ which is the worst thing in the world you could tell a young black man … They teach contempt for the police, for the whole justice system.”

McSpadden’s comments led the ACLU of Texas on Tuesday to announce it is calling on the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate McSpadden for judicial conduct violations that may be grounds for his removal from office.

A spokeswoman for the civil rights group said Tuesday it had not sent a letter calling for an investigation of McSpadden to the judicial ethics commission. But the ACLU’s press release implies it’s a foregone conclusion the commission will look into McSpadden’s statements, and it likely will.

The ACLU of Texas said it wants McSpadden ordered to recuse himself from any case involving a black defendant until the investigation is resolved.

“If there remained any doubt that the deck is stacked against people of color in our criminal justice system, Michael McSpadden just dispelled it. When a sitting judge feels comfortable enough to admit openly and on the record that he uses bail orders to jail black defendants on the assumption they can’t be trusted, it’s time to take action,” Terri Burke, ACLU of Texas’ executive director, said in a statement.

A phone call to McSpadden’s court clerk was not answered Tuesday afternoon.

Anthony Graves spent 18 years in Texas prisons, 12 on death row, after he was convicted of murdering six people in 1992. A federal appeals court overturned his conviction in 2006. He was released from prison in 2010. Texas paid him $1.4 million in restitution for his time behind bars.

Graves, 52, now works as a criminal justice reform advocate for the ACLU of Texas.

“Judge McSpadden’s remarks are inexcusable, but not at all surprising for those of us who know the justice system well,” Graves said in a statement. “If our justice system ever hopes to live up to the ideals that are supposed to guide it, we have to stamp out everywhere this sort of unfairness, injustice and inequality that black defendants face in courtrooms like Judge McSpadden’s.”

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